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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Revisiting: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Graceling Realm, Book 2; published in 2009; 480 pages.  ★★★★☆

The stars always eased her lonesomeness.  She thought of them as beautiful creatures, burning and cold like her; each solitary, and bleak, and silent like her.

Summary:
It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

(From Goodreads)

I’m so glad I’m rereading this series.  I had a vague memory of Graceling and Fire, and remembered liking the latter much better, but I didn’t recall – or maybe, seven years ago, never noticed – the complexity of Kristin Cashore’s themes or the way these two books complement each other by approaching the same issue of self-determination from different angles.  It’s… fascinating, and kind of beautiful, and looking at it as an adult I find myself loving this series, much to my own surprise.

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Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Published in 2014; 446 pages; ★★★★★

“You cannot keep change from happening, Lord Pashavar,” Maia said sympathetically, and Lord Pashavar flapped a hand at him to get on with things.

Summary:
A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

(From Goodreads)

The Goblin Emperor is… an experience.  It’s the kind of book that’s so wholly absorbing that it becomes a struggle to review, because no matter how I try to articulate how I loved it, I feel like I just can’t do it justice.  Additionally, Addison flouts many of the fantasy genre’s conventions of plot structure and character relationships, so it doesn’t have the same sort of ‘hook’ that many of its companions on the shelf do, and… I almost feel like all I can say is, “Just take my word for it and read this.”  But this book deserves more, so I’m gonna try to do better than that.  Bear with me.

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