justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[personal profile] justira
A Darker Shade of Magic photo cover_adarkershadeofmagic_zps12923fe2.jpg

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

Friends! I bet you have figured out by now that I am the local curmudgeonly contrarian, and I don't like anything. Well STRAP IN, because I have POSITIVE REVIEW today! And for once, it's SPOILER FREE!

Yes! A Darker Shade of Magic was delightful, and I have exceedingly few complaints about it (of course it wouldn't be me if there were NO complaints).

 photo sofuckingexcitedomg_zpsjx1yby3u.gif


Like All the Birds in the Sky, this is a book of and about tropes. The setup is trope-tastic; you've heard this all before. You have your world-weary but young magician struggling with his place in the world, your dubiously moral cutpurse scrappy lady, your ruthless evil mage, your overall setting as a portal fantasy. It's all very by-the-numbers, but A Darker Shade of Magic is an exercise in colouring inside the lines and making it sing.

Read more... )
justira: A purple, gender-ambiguous unicorn pony in the style of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (lady business)
[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
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay
I'm engaged in an ongoing battle with Kate Elliott's backlist. Currently, her backlist is winning. I've knocked out the Spiritwalker trilogy, Jaran, Spirit Gate, and now part of The Very Best of Kate Elliott for a total of 5 (and a half). Only 17 more to go (19 if we count the upcoming Court of Fives and The Black Wolves). Is there anyone out there who has finished everything? Did they ever return from their quest? I feel like everyone who does should get a celebratory ribbon or certificate of some kind. I may print myself one when I finish. She's written nineteen fucking books not to mention ancillary content and short fiction. Why is she not a guest of honor at every single convention in the United States? Get it together, SF convention culture, geez. Read more... )
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay
I've been driving everyone around me up the wall with my complicated reactions to City of Stairs, a fantasy novel that dropped last September. I'm still a little angry about it, but less so now that I have some distance from my immediate reaction of "NO!!!", followed by ugly crying, followed by fuming for hours. When I meet a story that's so wonderful, and I love all the characters, the adventure is fun, the setting is fascinating, and there's a rich sense of history to the world, I want it to be perfect so I can recommend it without reservation. This is another good example of what happens when a book you love just hauls off and socks you in the jaw. Not maliciously, but as we all know, we don't read stories in a vacuum!

City of Stairs is doing so many things right that I'm crushed over the fact that I came away from the book so conflicted. I went through this with God's War by Kameron Hurley, too, where I had to leave the book alone for awhile because I was just so utterly disappointed that everything I loved also existed with one story element that made me so unhappy. Everything we love is problematic, the saying goes, so what's the right balance? What do we do with otherwise excellent books that repeat troubling patterns? Because obviously burning them in a pile while crying bitterly isn't cost effective or a good way to not smell like dead, burned books. Also, you just burned all those other parts you loved. Crap.

cover and blurb )

Shara Thivani, who comes to Bulikov with her secretary, Sigrud, to investigate the murder of historian Efrem Pangyui, is so wonderful. I loved her immediately after her first scene with her Aunt Vinya, a politician of note in Shara's home country of Saypur. She's intelligent and clever, but a little bit arrogant and condescending, too. In a scene very early on she talks about jingoism and is rather holier-than-thou about it, which is fascinating as the story that follows dismantles her self-satisfaction over being better than the people who engage in the sort of overt patriotism versus her own, more shadowy version. She's compassionate and kind, but she has important things to learn about the policies she's been enforcing, and it's a treat to go along with her as she unravels the mystery of what's happening in Bulikov and on the Continent itself. Her companion, Sigrud, is interesting on an interpersonal level because how are these people, of all the people in the world, partners? But he's also delightful — he got some of the best action sequences. There's multiple professional and personal relationships here between women like Mulaghesh and Vinya, as well, which is so wonderful. The top Saypuri leaders we get to know are all women, which was extremely satisfying. If they cut each other down or challenged each other, it wasn't because they were women, it was because they were politicians.

But to me the heart of the novel is about history — both personal and national — and how history can shape so much of what we do and who we are, and what the consequences are if we learn new things about history and misuse that information. What kind of people do we become when we learn new truths or have what we think we knew challenged? We often have a choice, and that choice has far-reaching consequences much longer and more influential than we can see. What's more important: the truth or our egos? People or power?

City of Stairs is lively in its writing, canny with its revelations, and boasts a crunchy critique about colonialism that unfolds until the very end, all wrapped up in an intriguing spy narrative package. Even in dark moments there is hope, friendship, love, and compassion. I enjoyed it so much. A summary:

PEOPLE IN POWER: Shara, don't do it.
SHARA: I did it.

and

SHARA: Vohannes, no.
VOHANNES: Vohannes YES.

and

BAD GUYS: *terrible actions*
SIGRUD: *silent decision to beat some guys down*
SHARA: Oh, not again...

But I have some caveats. Although, when don't I? 10,000 points to the person who can name the last book I didn't have caveats over. Character spoilers beyond this point. )

Special Thanks!


To Sunil ([twitter.com profile] ghostwritingcow) for assuring me I wasn't a jerk, and providing excellent edits. ♥

Other Reviews )
helloladies: Horseshoe icon with the words Lady Business underneath. (Default)
[personal profile] helloladies
We're excited to present a guest post about Final Fantasy X-2 from long time friend, [personal profile] owlmoose! Read on to find out why Final Fantasy X-2 is an awesome game experience and why you should definitely check out the new Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster!


The following is a discussion of the videogame Final Fantasy X-2 from a feminist perspective, revised from a post I wrote on my journal in February 2011. Although I've attempted to make it accessible to general audiences, it does contain spoilers for FFX-2 as well as Final Fantasy X, and assumes a passing familiarity with both games and the Final Fantasy franchise in general.

Rikku, Yuna, and Paine


Final Fantasy is a videogame series published by Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft), one of the titans of the Japanese role-playing (JRPG) genre. As of this writing, there are fourteen main numbered installments, many of which have sequels and spinoffs. However, the main titles are not connected to each other in any way, save a few similarities in theme and naming conventions. Each main title is set in a completely different world, with new stories and new characters, and stands alone from the others. Final Fantasy X (FFX), the tenth main title, was first released to much fanfare in 2001. Although not universally beloved (get any two Final Fantasy fans in a room, and they will have different and often directly opposed opinions on which game is the best and which the worst), it was well received by both fans and critics overall, and it remains popular enough that it was remastered for the PlayStation 3 in 2013. It also inspired something that no other Final Fantasy game had, up to that point: a direct sequel. That sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX-2), was released in 2003, to a decidedly more mixed reaction. Read more... )
helloladies: Horseshoe icon with the words Lady Business underneath. (Default)
[personal profile] helloladies
cover for Cold Steel


Trouble, treachery, and magic just won't stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother's murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren't even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.

Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them. (source)


Spoilers.

KJ: So I have start by thanking Renay for recommending this series to me so strongly, because otherwise I would not have picked it up. And that would have been a shame. Kate Elliott has long been on my list of "authors to check out someday, perhaps", but I'd never received a rec for any particular title. Since that list is very, very long, I doubt she would have moved to the top otherwise. Now I feel a burning need to at least take a look at everything else she has ever written.

Renay: By "strongly" you mean climbing the walls and going "READ IT OMG READ IT OR ELSE" and freaking you out so much that it became self-preservation, right? ;) I'm the best handseller, clearly. Count yourself lucky we live half a country apart, otherwise I would've taped the book to my face and done a backward crab crawl at you down a dark hall. WOULDN'T YOU HAVE BEEN CONVINCED? Read more... )

"The ideal is a story in which women are present all the way from the protagonist to multiple secondary and minor characters, and that their interactions with each other are as important as their interactions with men." — Kate Elliott, Author Interview, The Book Wars





Other reviews )
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[personal profile] bookgazing


Set in the 14th century, "The White Queen" follows the many fascinating royal and noble women caught up in the dynastic struggles between the houses of Lancaster and York. If you enjoy settling down to a period drama, but are tired of watching various actors parade around as the murderous and lecherous Henry VIII, then this fun drama that celebrates the mixed up, disrupted lives of ladies could be just what you’re looking for.

Your text book is full of spoilers too. )

Supplementary Material

"Freedom at 21" (fan-vid)

Other Reviews

Asking the Wrong Questions
Yours?
helloladies: Horseshoe icon with the words Lady Business underneath. (Default)
[personal profile] helloladies
Emma stands behind Snow, who is dressed in her curse world contemporary clothes but holds a bow and arrow


Once Upon a Time’s first season brought us a wonderfully campy fantasy show with a cast full of all kinds of women. Its second season lost the thread a little bit, but Jodie and Clare were already hooked. Watch them tackle the show’s second season, from beloved ships to skeevy pirates to the show’s race problem.


Clare has already jumped into season three, while Jodie's UK location as usual puts her woefully behind on the US show gossip. Expect blunt spoilers for season two and vaguer hints about season three. )

Here’s hoping that Once Upon a Time starts being a little more cohesive and lady-centric come season three. Jodie is waiting for season three to come to her side of the Pond. Clare is watching season three Stateside on Sundays with increasing delight and incredulity.

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Ira is an illustrator and gamer who decided that disagreeing with everyone would be a good way to spend their time on the internet. more? » twitter icon tumblr icon AO3 icon

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