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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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: 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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Review: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Passenger, Book 1; published in 2016; 486 pages.  ★★★★☆

“Look lively.  We’ve a journey to make.”

 

Summary:
In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.
Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.
Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.
(From Goodreads)

Alexandra Bracken is an author whose career I’ve followed since her debut (back in 2010, with Brightly Woven), and who has truly only gotten better with time.  Her work isn’t confined to a single genre:  she started with second-world high fantasy, then a trilogy of near-future dystopians, and now this:  a time travel novel, not quite historical fiction but sharing many of its traits.  While Passenger is not my favorite of her work to date (that goes to In The Afterlight, the stunning conclusion to the Darkest Minds trilogy), it is as solidly crafted as I have come to expect for her, and its ending promises a spectacular sequel in Wayfarer, expected next year.

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