Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Manifold Worlds, Book 1; published in 2016; 496 pages.  ★★★★★

“Some lies are useful, not because they trick us into thinking that the world is different, but because they show us that it could be.”

Summary:
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

(From Goodreads)

An Accident Of Stars is one of those books that, honestly, I always knew I would love.  I put off reading it for far too long, because portal fantasy isn’t a trope that particularly appeals to me, but… it’s Foz Meadows, and I’ve been following Meadows’ reviewing and writing on fandom and culture for years now.  Her first book is just as brilliant, incisive, thoughtful, and compelling as I always expected it to be, and I confess – I’m more interested in portal fantasy as a trope after reading it.

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Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

Passenger, Book 2; published in 2017; 532 pages.  ★★★★☆

“Do you believe in destiny, then?  That something deserves to exist, just because it once was?”
“I believe in humanity, in peace, in the natural order of things,” he said.  “I believe that the only way to balance the power of what we can do is with sacrifice.  Accepting that we cannot possess the things and people not meant for us, we cannot control every outcome; we cannot cheat death.  Otherwise there’s no meaning to any of it.”

Summary:
All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.

(From Goodreads)

There are an awful lot of trilogies out there, especially in young adult books, which really don’t need to be trilogies.  After The Edge of the Abyss and Wayfarer, though, I’m no longer sure that duologies are the solution.  While Wayfarer was still a strong and well-crafted novel, the pacing of the first half of the story dragged badly, and many new story elements were added in a rushed and haphazard-feeling manner.  It wasn’t bad, per se, but it could have been better, and a little more pagetime might have done a lot to improve things.  Say… another book?

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Review: The Edge of The Abyss by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us, Book 2;  published in 2017; 281 pages.  ★★★★☆

Every burst of fireworks feels somewhere between a prelude to war and a statement of purpose. We’re here. We’re alive. And we’re going to light you up.

Summary:
Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

(From Goodreads)

If I’m honest with myself, I think The Edge of the Abyss is my second-most-anticipated release of 2017, following only Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer.  The Abyss Surrounds Us was an absolute delight, refreshing in its originality, complexity, and casual diversity – at once a rollicking science fiction story, an exploration of moral questions, and a confident assertion that the future holds a place for all people.  It also ended on a frankly vicious cliffhanger, and I’ve been longing for its sequel ever since.  And after all that, it did live up to my expectations… for the most part.  I want more.  I want so much more, some of it that I wish had been in this book and some of which I’m still hoping for.  That is, in the end, a testament to the strength of the world, story, and characters that Skrutskie has created – but it does mean that I feel The Abyss Surrounds Us to be the stronger book.  Cliffhanger aside, it felt like the more complete of the two.

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Review: Pythagoras’s Trousers by Margaret Wertheim

Surprise!  I’m alive and so is this blog.  Life happens, but hopefully I’ll be back for a while.

Published in 1995; 252 pages; ★★☆☆☆

“Who knows what talent was squandered because women were not given equal access to education and careers?  Who knows what insights and inventions were lost because more women did not participate in the great technological revolution of the nineteenth century?”

Summary:
Here is a fresh, astute social and cultural history of physics, from ancient Greece to our own time. From its inception, Margaret Wertheim shows, physics has been an overwhelmingly male-dominated activity; she argues that gender inequity in physics is a result of the religious origins of the enterprise.

Pythagoras’ Trousers is a highly original history of one of science’s most powerful disciplines. It is also a passionate argument for the need to involve both women and men in the process of shaping the technologies from the next generation of physicists.

(From Goodreads)

Physics is not my scientific field of choice.  I’ve struggled with it since middle school, for a variety of reasons.  Still, it’s an important field and one which drives much of our modern society – and also one in which women have comparatively little participation.  Pythagoras’s Trousers was loaned to me by my grandmother, who read it for her book group, and thought I might find it interesting, and I did… though not precisely as the text it purports to be.  Wertheim has produced a sound history of physics, and of sexism and religiosity within the science, but I left the book feeling like she hadn’t really presented a case for a causal relationship between those qualities.

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Review: Of Fire And Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Published in 2016; 389 pages; ★★★★★

My daily life remained a rehearsal for the moment I met my betrothed, and my secret seemed like a trivial thing.  I believed that as long as I followed my training, nothing could go wrong.

But some things are stronger than years of lessons.

The draw of fire.

A longing for freedom.

Or a girl on a red horse.

Summary:
Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

(From Goodreads)

Let’s not beat around the bush:  Of Fire And Stars is right up my alley.  Princesses falling in love with each other, horses, elemental magic, a sprinkling of classic worldbuilding tropes, and a dash of sociopolitical commentary – it’s a recipe for a light, enjoyable read that I was sure to love.  Looking back on it with a bit more distance, I can see a few weak spots (most of which could have been negated had the book simply been longer) but overall, this book was so fantastically enjoyable that I choose to give it five stars anyway.

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Review: Cultural Misunderstandings by Raymonde Carroll

Published in 1987; 147 pages; ★★☆☆☆

“Of course, we are all human.  But we speak thousands of different languages, which makes us no less human, and do not find it inconceivable to learn a variety of “foreign” languages.  Yet we refuse to accept the idea that we communicate with others through something similar to languages, “languages” of which we are unaware – our cultures – despite the fact that we speak a great deal today about cultural differences.”

Summary:
Raymonde Carroll presents an intriguing and thoughtful analysis of the many ways French and Americans—and indeed any members of different cultures—can misinterpret each other, even when ostensibly speaking the same language. Cultural misunderstandings, Carroll points out, can arise even where we least expect them—in our closest relationships. The revealing vignettes that Carroll relates, and her perceptive comments, bring to light some fundamental differences in French and American presuppositions about love, friendship, and raising children, as well as such everyday activities as using the telephone or asking for information.
(From Goodreads)

This review requires a preface:  I am thoroughly aware that a lot of my perception of this book is, ironically, shaped by cultural premises.  For one thing, American standards of scholarship are different – it would be unusual to see an American scholarly book with no list of references or index.  A text lacking these acknowledgements of other research reads, to me, more like an opinion piece than true nonfiction.

With that said… fundamentally, I found there to be a kind of irony here.  On the one hand, I’m fairly convinced that Carroll wrote this in good faith; that she believes in the power of cultural analysis to resolve misunderstandings; and that she’s earnest in her desire to understand different perspectives.  On the other hand, there’s very little indication in this book that she actually sought out American viewpoints, and her analysis ended up feeling one-sided and shallow.

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Review: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Wayward Children, Book 1; published in 2016; 173 pages.   ★★★☆☆

You’re nobody’s doorway but your own, and the only one who gets to tell you how your story ends is you.

Summary:
Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Guests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.
(From Goodreads)

Every Heart a Doorway is a staggeringly well-loved book.  I’ve heard raving about it from friends and from authors I follow, and it’s been widely talked up in the asexual community as a shining example of textual ace representation.  So… it took me a day, a bit of rereading, and some talking-through to realize that I… don’t… love it.

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