Archive for fantasy

sixteen ways to defend a walled city [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2020 by xi'an

The title of this book, sixteen ways to defend a walled city,  enticed me to order it and after a slow beginning I became hooked to the story. I had forgotten I had read and enjoyed a book by K.J. Parker before, namely Devices and Desires, which was quite pleasant as far as I remember! (Not to be confused with another book under the same title by P.D. James.) The concept is somewhat similar, with the same universe if eons laters: boosted medieval warfare seen from an engineer’s perspective. (Devices and Desires started the Engineer Trilogy to make it clear to everyone!) Which makes for a pleasant change as devious ingenuity usually trumps frontal strength and there is at last attention paid to good, I mean in the sense of good delivery, resources, shortage, &tc.! The style is light and funny, the characters are somewhat too nice overall (until they die), but this makes for a tolerable kind of pastiche, most enjoyable to stand a heatwave! A second book just came out and I may be tempted to buy it, heatwave or not. Although the first one concluded in a rather definitive way, making a sequel unlikely… I may also complete the Engineer Trilogy.

bloggin’ nebulas [link]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , on May 25, 2020 by xi'an

Just to point out that the SF and fantasy editor Tor Books has posted on its site a series of blog posts on all the competitors for the 2019 Nebula Novel Award, including one of Gideon the Ninth I have enjoyed very much. With the mention there that the novel could be seen as “the Mobius Strip of over-the-topness”! To be announced on May the 30th.

Gideon the Ninth [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2020 by xi'an

After much hesitation and pondering, I eventually gave in and started reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and then rushed through it over the first of May extended weekend! Hesitation and pondering, because I am not particularly excited in zombie novels and animate skeletons literature and living dead books. However, since the book was getting a lot of praise from reading groups and ended up a Hugo Awards 2020 Nominee, I ordered the 2€ Kindle version and got to read it, being immediately caught by the irreverent tone of the main character and the punk style of the story, which mixes necromancy, death cults, living gods, space travel, chivalrous quest, sword mystique, AIs, deadly puzzles à la Hunger Games, and a whodunit à la Agatha Christie, Then There Were None on an island planet… (Although I have never been a fan of Christie’s novels either, reading some eons ago as an unsuccessful way to improve my appalling English skills in secondary school). The book gets addictive because of this highly unusual combination, plus the compelling story and relation of the two central teenage girls, turning away from murderous to loving, once all skeletons are out of the closet (literally). There are enough complex and un-charicatur-esque characters to make the structure and the whodunit puzzle very enjoyable, with unexpected twists and a massively enjoyable ending. To think that this is a first novel is staggering, with highly funny dialogues for Death believers. Definitely worth the read (and the vote for the Hugo Award!) And the second volume is coming out next August. (But the first Act is available for free on kindles.)

Gagner la guerre

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2020 by xi'an

Within a few sunny days of being consigned at home [by the “war” against the epidemics], I went through Jaworski’s Gagner la Guerre [To the victors go the spoils], which I had discovered in the list of the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers (or rather of whoever replied to the call since the survey was not restricted to Le Monde subscribers).  While I still have no clue how the book ended up at the 67th position in the list (!), next to Yourcenar’s fabulous L’Œuvre au Noir, I am still glad that this list pointed out the very existence of this book. Although not much more enlightened as to whom would include it in the “best novels ever”. (Warning: As the novel has not been translated from French into other languages, the review  below may be of limited appeal to most readers!)

A possible explanation for this paradox is that Jaworski is originally a creator of role-playing games and hence famous among some role-playing communities as well, who could have mobilized efficiently enough to bring him within the 101. The plot shows some influence of this role-playing expertise as the central character, a despicable, violent, sexist, xenophobic, rapist, murderous, anti-hero Benvenuto, moves from one danger to the next, while visiting the continent imagined by the author and meets characters from one fantasy race after the other: elves, dwarfs, near-orcs. Reminding me very much of the races in Warhammer, since fighting styles associated with each conveniently identified the different parts of the country. The home town of Benvenuto is a mix of Italian Renaissance state-cities, between Sienna and Venezia. Run by a Senate of rich families, fighting a Southern kingdom closely resembling the Ottoman empire, as in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky. If in a much grittier style. It also reminded me of the fabulous Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, incl. Republic of Thieves. Sorcery is also involved here, whose role only appears progressively throughout the novel. Despite my usual annoyance at this choice, the writing style of the author, who also is a teacher of French literature in high school, always a first person narrative, ends up being a strength of the book, involving a rich multitude of language levels, from the vernacular to the antique, revealing as well a multitude of layers in Benvenuto (who finds himself anything but welcome from most places he visits!, including my living-room!!). None of them palatable however. To be perfectly clear, the book is an addictive page turner, despite an accumulation of details that sometimes delay the action, but which are nonetheless essential to make the book universe more substantial and complex. Highly recommended for French-speaking fans of grimdark pseudo-historical fantasy (over the legal age)!

the ninth house

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2020 by xi'an

“Monsters often operate metaphorically in fantasy. We can banish those literal monsters, but to banish the figurative monster at the same time does a tremendous disservice to readers, because trauma doesn’t finish with the last page of a book,. And for those of us who live with any kind of trauma in our past, the idea of purging it in some kind of magical way is offensive.” L. Bardugo, Bustle, Oct 9, 2019

As I had rather enjoyed the style of her YA Grisha series (despite a superficial scenario and equally superficial Russification of the fantasy universe there), I followed another Amazon link to Leigh Bardugo’s first “adult” novel. (Which denomination means not purposedly “young adult”!) The Ninth House. After a highly laudatory New York Times book review.

The story is rather unsurprising at one level, namely a college town (Yale, New Haven), “secret” societies (nine of them), some happy (?) few having access to magical powers, a parallel world, ghosts and demons, a freshwoman coming from a highly traumatic past and an unprivileged background, brushing with much more privileged classmates and catching up amazingly well in English literature and languages (but staying away from STEM, why is that?!), not so much an anti-hero as the author would us like to believe but who single-handedly solves a murder (or a few) and exposes some of the murderers for her own sense of justice. With a pending sequel to seek a missing paladin and mentor. With an elaborate enough style and enough twists and surprises in the plot to keep the reader hooked, especially readers with a past or a present in said college town. Or another Ivy League town.

However, there is more depth to the book than a mere exploitation of successful tropes, in that the main character is building meaning all along the book, with her supernatural abilities more curse than blessing and a massive past trauma that cannot heal and threatens to define her. Which makes the above statement from the author quite powerful. I thus found the book equally powerful, despite not being a big fan of ghost and horror stories, to the point of looking for the next installment, whenever ready.