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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Revisiting: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling Realm, Book 1; published in 2008; 471 pages.  ★★★☆☆

A monster that refused, sometimes, to behave like a monster.  When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster?  Did it become something else?

Summary:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

(From Goodreads)

Graceling is a reread for me, but one that still managed to be better than I expected.  It was a sensation in the teen library group I was a part of in high school, in no small part because Cashore’s protagonist, Katsa, is a sharp contrast to Bella Swan.  It wasn’t until years later, long after I had read both Graceling and its companion, Fire, that I encountered criticism of Katsa as a Strong Female Character whose strength derives from being as masculine as possible.  Returning to the series with the intent to finally read Bitterblue, book 3, I expected Graceling to be cringe-worthy, didactic, and ham-handed.  And I did find myself cringing – but not about Katsa.  In fact, I found Katsa’s psychology and development to be the most nuanced part of the book.

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Review: You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen

Published in 1990; 298 pages.  ★★★★☆

“So there it is:  Boys and girls grow up in different worlds, but we think we’re in the same one, so we judge each other’s behavior by the standards of our own.”

Summary:
Women and men live in different worlds…made of different words.
Spending nearly four years on the New York Times bestseller list, including eight months at number one, You Just Don’t Understandis a true cultural and intellectual phenomenon. This is the book that brought gender differences in ways of speaking to the forefront of public awareness. With a rare combination of scientific insight and delightful, humorous writing, Tannen shows why women and men can walk away from the same conversation with completely different impressions of what was said.
Studded with lively and entertaining examples of real conversations, this book gives you the tools to understand what went wrong — and to find a common language in which to strengthen relationships at work and at home. A classic in the field of interpersonal relations, this book will change forever the way you approach conversations.
(From Goodreads)

You Just Don’t Understand is an impressively accessible, balanced analysis of gender-based differences in communication.  I went into it expecting neither of these things, and found myself completely shocked and impressed with how clearly Tannen lays out ideas and how even-handedly she addresses communication styles (sometimes to the point of being frustrating to read, as she defended styles I find personally annoying – but then again, those were the most thought-provoking moments for me).  While the book is approaching 30 years old, it still felt relevant and provided useful tools for examining gender and communication norms, and was well worth the read.

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Review: On A Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard

Xuya Universe; published in 2012; 154 pages.  ★★★★☆

“But of course, she thought, we’re small-minded and petty, and sometimes, we let ourselves be hollowed out by hatred.  And sometimes, we commit the unforgivable.”

Summary:
For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe.

What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

(From Goodreads)

First of all:  for those who don’t know, Aliette de Bodard has a list of free short stories you can read online.  I binge-read my way through them over a year ago and they’re fantastic, and when it happened that I had Amazon gift card balance to spend I went for this novella almost immediately.  De Bodard tells complex stories in expansive universes, and somehow she does it in short forms – it’s incredible.

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Revisiting: Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

Books of Faerie, book 1; published in 2008; 325 pages.  ★★★☆☆

“You have to trust yourself.  You don’t need someone else to tell you what to do.”
Maybe I did.  Maybe I wasn’t ready for the independence I’d wanted so badly.

Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She’s about to find out she’s also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen’s sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren’t so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn’t exactly what she had in mind . . .
(From Goodreads)

This year, Maggie Stiefvater published The Raven King, the fourth and final book in her Raven Cycle series.  It was spectacular, and I was left with the sense that in the Raven Cycle, Stiefvater had really come into her own.  That made me wonder, because I remembered being dazzled by her debut, Lament – just how much has changed about her writing in the last eight years?

The answer is:  not the core, but quite a lot.

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Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Published in 2015; 438 pages; ★★★☆☆

“It comes, I suppose,” I said thoughtfully, speaking to the air, “of spending too much time alone indoors, and forgetting that living things don’t always stay where you put them.”

Summary:
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

(From Goodreads)

Uprooted is a book that I took forever to read.  When the first synopsis came out, I was ecstatic – Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire series I adore, writing Eastern European fantasy?  That was bound to be spectacular!  And then… I forgot about it.  It was published in May 2015, and some months later I bought it in hardcover, which is rare for me, and then… left it languishing on my shelf.  In January 2016, Foz Meadows wrote this blog post, and as I read it I felt cold.  I started looking around and finding other bad signs, including comparisons to a book that I had loathed for its abusive, child grooming ‘love interest’.  It took me several more months to muster up the determination to read it for myself, and… unsurprisingly, Foz was right.

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Review: Travels in Alaska by John Muir

Edition published in 1979;  318 pages; ★★★★☆

…but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

Summary:
In the late 1800s, John Muir made several trips to the pristine, relatively unexplored territory of Alaska, irresistibly drawn to its awe-inspiring glaciers and its wild menagerie of bears, bald eagles, wolves, and whales. Half-poet and half-geologist, he recorded his experiences and reflections in Travels in Alaska, a work he was in the process of completing at the time of his death in 1914. As Edward Hoagland writes in his Introduction, “A century and a quarter later, we are reading [Muir’s] account because there in the glorious fiords . . . he is at our elbow, nudging us along, prompting us to understand that heaven is on earth—is the Earth—and rapture is the sensible response wherever a clear line of sight remains.”
(From Goodreads)

John Muir took me by surprise, though I really shouldn’t have been so shocked.  For some reason, I assumed this book would be dense, erudite, and difficult to read – but Muir wouldn’t have been the father of modern American conservation if his writing had been inaccessible.  Indeed, Travels in Alaska is surprisingly readable, lyrically and beautifully written.  While there’s no plot underlying this rambling travelogue, I found it to be nonetheless a fascinating and meditative reading experience.

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