renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Hello, friends! I took last week off to catch up with paid work and to recover from getting socked in the sinuses by allergies. But I've been making excellent headway on reading and getting awesome books in the mail. >D

cover for Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

CHALLENGE: 100 Unique Women Writers

You know that feeling when you realize you've undertaken a massive reading project and were over-confident, but are now too stubborn to give up? I am that feeling, made sentient, with no one around me strong enough to take me aside and say, "Renay, NO." :D

Books for Week 12 and 13: Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and Act of God by Jill Ciment.

cover for Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

cover for Act of God by Jill Ciment

I've never read Anne McCaffrey, in yet another stunning display of Established Canon Failure due to lack of robust a library system. I have Act of God out from the library already so yay! Meanwhile, I finished some books!

Reading Adventures!

Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh was my very first Cherryh novel. It took me weeks to finish because it's an incredibly dense, slow burn military space opera, pitting Earth against distant colonies, space stations, and the mysterious and ominous Union. cover of Downbelow Station There's the Konstantin family, leaders on the space station Pell, caught in the crossfire between Earth and Union, quite a few entitled dudes (who thankfully get their just desserts), a rad spaceship captain, and finally a real life Care Bear in the form of Josh Talley. When Damon Konstantin and his wife, Elene, take Josh under their wing, it changes everything. Never underestimate the value of kindness!

Downbelow Station is densely packed with information, politics, and socioeconomic structures. Mixed in is a lot of interpersonal drama that runs like an electric current underneath all the strategy both sides of the war employ to take over Pell. To add to the chaos, Pell is overrun by refugees from other space stations that have fallen due to the war between Earth and Union. It's being attacked both externally and internally by Union spies and military and the Konstantin's struggle to keep control on the station as well as on the planet they control, Downbelow.

I was very, very lost for the first 200 pages of this book, which is far longer than I would give a book otherwise. But I wanted to know more about Josh's backstory, and the rad spaceship captain, Signy Mallory, was irresistible. We get a glimpse of her at the beginning and then I flipped ahead to see she comes back later, so I just stuck with the book, waiting like a fat spider. It was so worth it. She's callous and cold and fascinating, and yet when it counts, she becomes one of the most empathetic characters in the entire book, pushing back against a structure that's sought to silence her and box her in in ways she can't stomach. Josh is more of a mystery, but his relationship with Damon and Elene is excellently drawn; it felt like it wasn't just him that needed their help. They needed him, too, to help anchor them as people who were losing or had already lost something irreplaceable. The women in Downbelow Station were all delightful; many of them got to direct the plot and had power and influence that wasn't affected by being women, or being disabled, or being pregnant. It was great.

This novel's format reminded me of a Kate Elliott novel, where everything is carefully layered to help draw you toward an ultimate reveal that knocks your socks off. Congratulations, book! My socks were knocked; I salute you. Josh Talley is officially great and I hope he's in other books in this universe. Fingers crossed!

The main issue I had with this novel: the hisa. I loved some of the hisa characters, especially Bluetooth, but it was so awkward reading their sections and how they thought and communicated. Now, I grew up in the South, so I was privy to a lot of really racist caricature, throughout my childhood especially, and every time I finished a section with the hisa I had flashbacks to some of those cartoons and films and shows where white people would pretend to know how black men and women communicated with each other and them. That's exactly how it felt and I was deeply uncomfortable the entire time. As I said on Goodreads: "The only downside to this book for me were the hisa, alien creatures which felt as if Cherryh went, 'what if I just took this romanticized ideal of how plantation-era slaves reacted to their owners and vice versa and used that?'" I wouldn't anti-rec this book because of that, because it might be specific to my experience with being very sensitive to potentially racist imagery. And well, see: Talley, Josh, human cinnamon roll, with his delicious couple frosting, Damon/Elene.

A lot of folks told me I should have started elsewhere with Cherryh, but her back list is so massive that I just took a dive. I'm not sure where to go next. I have omnibuses of The Chanur Saga, The Faded Sun trilogy, The Morgaine Saga, and also an Alliance Space book that has both Merchanter's Luck and Forty Thousand in Gehenna. Recommendations of direction welcome!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab was a book my circle went wild for last year. Everyone who read it around me loved it for the most part and told me to read it and I see now why. A Darker Shade of Magic is a lovely, darkly charming portal fantasy with Kell, a magician smuggler, and Lila, a thief with piratical dreams. When Kell accidentally smuggles a piece of dark magic into his world, he escapes by landing right in Lila's path in her world, and their lives are tangled up good and proper. cover of A Darker Shade of Magic Kell has to make things right by disposing of the magical plague object and Lila has to have an adventure, and what better adventure than a magician smuggler?

There are some nasty characters in this book, some terribly powerful magic used in really dark, awful ways, but the lighter parts of the book shine through for me. Kell's familial loneliness and uncertainty about his past causes him to engage in an illegal and dangerous pastime of smuggling objects between worlds, and although he's not doing grievous harm, he becomes a tool for other people with pretty lousy life goals. His choices have consequences and they ripple through the whole book. Lila was tougher; she's fragile, but she'd gut you if you told her that. Even though Lila dreams of being a pirate, what her true goal seems to be is autonomy and stability on her terms and no one else's. Those things are hard to acquire when you're poor and scraping to survive; Lila felt the most relatable to me because she's trapped by circumstance and lack of privilege, and for her risk means losing much less. Kell and Lila are both insecure in vastly different ways, but neither of them are wrong to be that way. And when they come together to resolve the magical plague they've spread across multiple worlds, they pick up each other's skills in complimentary ways. I enjoyed their teamwork a lot and was really impressed at the balance between them.

And of course, there's Rhy, the pansexual prince who Kell was raised alongside like a brother. That relationship is like pure catnip to me and I was clawing at my face at the end of the book in agony because the story doubles down on their relationship and complicates it beyond resolution for one book. And in one stroke I figured out why, exactly, everyone came to me going "READ THIS NOW!" Friends, you know me well. (Since there is a pansexual character, there are spoilers related to his fate which I am happy to share with anyone who asks!)

This is very accessible portal fantasy and it's fantasy that's just my speed. I didn't even have to take notes! I love fantasy novels that are just dense enough to dig into but not so involved that I have to drag out the notebook because I'm Bad at characters and intricate politics. A Darker Shade of Magic is enchanting and super readable. I especially loved seeing a friendship between a young man and woman develop in the way Kell and Lila's did; caustically and with grudging respect and without will they/won't they UST. I'm pleased I have the sequel here to read soon. ♥

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers, SFF Book Reviews, On Starships and Dragonwings, yours?

Date: 2016-03-28 05:11 pm (UTC)
ursula: bear eating salmon (Default)
From: [personal profile] ursula
My favorites of that set of Cherryh options are the Chanur books and Merchanter's Luck. Maybe try Chanur and switch if the pidgin drives you up the wall?

Date: 2016-03-28 05:19 pm (UTC)
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestofglory
I have fond memories of dragonsong but was a long time ago so the suck fairy may have gotten to it. Looking forward to your review anyways.

Date: 2016-03-28 05:49 pm (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
Dragonsong was my First Ever SF Novel from the grownup shelves at the library. My dad picked it out for me when I was beginning to exhaust the possibilities of the children's shelves. I was reading it in bed until I fell asleep and then started rereading it the next morning.

I haven't reread it in years, but I imprinted hard on it and the sequel in my teens, as well as collecting everything else I could find that she had written. I look forward to your review!

Date: 2016-03-29 04:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I will wait to be kept posted on what you think of the Schwab sequel! I am hoping to see MUCH MUCH MORE of Rhys, as he was a deeeelightful character.

Date: 2016-03-30 01:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Omg read the sequel nooooowwwwww, kissssssssssssiiiiiiiiiing!


Date: 2016-07-16 05:29 pm (UTC)
owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
I'm glad you and the entire rest of the universe recc'd this book to me, because I really loved it. Will you fall over and die if I admit that I totally 'ship Kell/Rhy? Usually that kind of adopted sibling relationship is an instant "no" for me, but somehow they don't trip that button for me (they trip the "NOW KISS" button instead). Lila is wonderful and I want her pirate queen adventures now. Totally agree about the Kell and Lila partnership and how it developed into friendship without any UST.


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