Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Read-Along: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Welcome to yet another Jacqueline Carey read-along, organized by Susan of Dab of Darkness and Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog! We’re starting up the final trilogy of the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and will be reading Naamah’s Kiss for the next few months.  If you’re interested in joining, you can post on our goodreads group!  For further information, here’s the blurb for Naamah’s Kiss:

“Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn, the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts—the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.

Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life—the bright lady and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, Moirin learns only when she comes of age how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great-granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D’Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.

After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance… on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d’Ange, where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch’in, Moirin’s skills will be a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior-princess desperate to save her father’s throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.”

The schedule will be as follows:

Dec. 5th Week 1 – Chapters 1-12, Hosted Lynn’s Book Blog
Dec. 12th Week 2 – Chapters 13-26, Hosted by Dab of Darkness
Dec. 19th Week 3 – Chapters 27-36, Hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Dec. 26th Week 4 – Chapters 37-48, Hosted by Tethyan Books
Jan. 2nd Week 5 – Chapters 49-60, Hosted by Dab of Darkness
Jan. 9th Week 6 – Chapters 61-74, Hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow
Jan 16th Week 7 – Chapters 75-End, Hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog

As indicated, this week we are discussing chapters 1-12, and questions are provided by Lynn’s Book Blog! Naamah’s Kiss starts several generations after the previous six books, and I am still trying to cope with the fact that there will be no Phedre and Joscelin.  They were really excellent characters, and I’m going to miss reading about them. Anyhow, on to the discussion:

Firstly, Carey has picked up the story a few generations down the line.  How do you think this will affect the story, if at all?

Well, there’s no Phedre and Joscelin.  I’m trying to approach this as a completely unrelated story in the same universe (which it is), but this still makes me sad.  Maybe one of them can appear to Moirin as vision from Cassiel or Kushiel?  I’m reaching here, but I really want them to be in this book.

In other areas, it looks like we have progressed to early 1500s, so there should be some changes to their society.  The New World has been discovered, and the blurb seems to say that intercontinental travel is now possible.  However, the world also seems more magical than before, since our main character is a magician. The series seemed to be moving further into overt, repeatable magic as we continued, so perhaps this should not be a surprise.

We have a new female lead.  What are your first impressions of Moirin?

She seems like a nice young woman, a person who has a good heart. In some ways, I don’t think her mother was entirely fair in her upbringing.  She taught her magic and woodlore, but completely neglected a lot of other areas.  As a result, she often seems to not really understand what’s happening around her. Given that her mother never talked to her about sex or social mores surrounding romantic relationships, never made any effort to teach her social skills, and resists giving her advice, it is not surprising that her first relationship was such a disaster.

I enjoyed the return to Alba, and once again meeting the Maghuin Dhonn - what did you make of the coming of age ritual?

This is more the style of magic I like in these books!  Did she go to a different world, or was it the effect of the mushroom tea?  However, since Moirin has magical powers, I’m guessing it was indeed another world.  I liked that I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  She could very well have been forced to leave Alba because the Maghuin Dhonn rejected her.  I’m glad that wasn’t the case, though, because she would have been devastated.   

The story already has the inclusion of magic and also visions of Gods - any predictions on what these visions and magic might bring to the story?

This seems to be shaping up to have even more magic than the end of Imriel’s trilogy, so I expect we will see other gods and other types of sorcery.  From the blurb, I expect Chinese dragons will be involved, or at least their spirits.  I really have no idea where this story is going to go right now, so I hesitate to make any more guesses!

Other Stuff:

--It was sad to see Clunderry again.  I’m glad Alais gave the estate a more hopeful legacy.  I almost expected Moirin to find Imriel’s little Elua corner.  Or did she, and I didn’t notice it?

--It seems like main characters really can’t just break up in these books.  Their partner has to die tragically.  I expect Moirin will be hesitant to fall in love again, after everything that happened with Cillian.

--I wonder if Moirin will lose her Alban magic when she leaves Alba.  She already has d’Angeline magic despite not being in Terre d’Ange, so I’m not sure how place-dependent her magic is.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Published: Orbit (2015)
Series: Book 3 of the Imperial Radch
Awards Won: Locus SF Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula and Hugo Awards

The Book:

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist - someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives - as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai, ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.” ~WWEnd.com

This is the conclusion of the Imperial Radch trilogy, and I would strongly recommend reading the series in order (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy). I would also particularly suggest reading the last two in quick succession.  The third novel picks up right after the second, and my year gap in reading left me scrambling to remember who everyone was and what was going on.  It would have been a much smoother transition if I’d read Ancillary Sword more recently.

My Thoughts:

Ancillary Justice had an epic scope, as we followed the starship-turned-individual Breq in her quest to avenge her grief on the multi-bodied leader of a galactic empire.  Ancillary Sword shifted to a smaller and more personal scale, as Breq took a new spaceship to the backwater Athoek Station in search of her beloved Lieutenant Awn’s sister.  I had expected that Ancillary Mercy would shift back to the broader stage of the galaxy, but Breq and her crewmen remain with Athoek Station to the end.  Many of the questions and problems brought up in Ancillary Sword are resolved, but there is very little conclusion regarding the wider political concerns from Ancillary Justice. Anaander Miaanai’s civil war and the fragile treaty with the alien Presger both come into play in some sense, but it turns out that neither is really the focus of the trilogy.

Instead, I see now that the trilogy is more concerned with ideas of personhood, identity and relationships.  The three books chronicle Breq’s journey from being a starship’s ancillary to accepting that she is a person in her own right.  Even after the events of the first novel, Breq is convinced that she is a replaceable object, and expresses discomfort with accepting the captaincy of another AI-starship, a role she believes a person should have. In line with this, Breq’s narrative generally focuses heavily on the people around her, often neglecting her own feelings and reactions.  Despite her self-negation, Breq actually does have a strong and charismatic personality, and I enjoyed watching her progress in self-awareness and in finding a place where she truly belongs.  

While the novel involves some excitement and action in the struggle against the Anaander Miaanai that comes to Athoek, much of the story focuses on quieter character moments. Two new characters are also introduced that serve mostly as comic relief, a cranky ancillary of the ancient ship Sphene and the absurdly clueless new Presger translator. Seivarden plays a larger role in this installment, and we see her forced to confront her arrogance, her addictions, and the mental and emotional instability that she has been patching up through her loyalty to Breq.  Tisarwat’s arc is more concerned with her coming to terms with her own identity, and the fact that it has been heavily influenced by Anaander.  The various other AI in the system all have personalities that are somewhat similar (as they are programmed to take a deep and abiding concern for the well-being of ‘their people’), but it was interesting to think how the events of the story might change them.  This was not really the kind of conclusion I expected for this trilogy, but I enjoyed reading about the characters I have come to love.  There is so much left unresolved, though, that I hope Leckie returns to this universe again in the future.

My Rating: 4/5

Ancillary Mercy, the conclusion of the Imperial Radch trilogy, retains the tighter focus of the trilogy’s middle novel.  While many of the questions of Ancillary Sword are addressed, the trilogy leaves some of the larger-scale concerns of Ancillary Justice unresolved.  Instead, the novel focuses on events at Athoek station, as well as the personal development of Breq and her troubled officers.  It was satisfying to see Breq maneuvering against an Anaander Miaanai again, but the novel ends before we get to see the longer-term consequences of her interesting decisions in this confrontation.  While this does close out the trilogy, I hope that this is not the last novel about the Imperial Radch.   

Friday, November 25, 2016

Short Fiction: August & September 2016

It’s time for a look at a few of my favorites out of the science fiction and fantasy short fiction works that have been recently published.  I rely on Rocket Stack Rank to provide me with a monthly list of stories to read, and I also have a subscription with the Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.  This is my first year keeping a close look at short fiction, so I’m hoping to branch out to subscriptions with additional magazines (such as Asimov’s or Analog) in the future.

Today, I will discuss stories published in August and September of this year.  As usual, I will provide links for the stories that are available for free online.     

Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus by Jeremiah Tolbert (Novelette, Lightspeed): This is the story of a clandestine food truck gathering of chefs that explore bizarre experimental cooking.  The creativity of the foods were a highlight of the story, and it was interesting how each dish danced along the line between delicious and disturbing.  I, like the main character, really enjoy imaginative food, so I had a lot of fun reading this speculative foodie fiction.

The Voice in the Cornfield, The Word Made Flesh by Desirina Boskovich (Short Story, Fantasy & Science Fiction): This one was a quiet, emotional story about an alien that crash-lands near a Mennonite community.  Few people notice the alien’s silent pain as it lies there, slowly dying, except for several women who are also suffering.  Boskovich writes from her experience of living in a Mennonite community, and she shows the cruelty and suffering that can lie just below a peaceful surface.  
The Further Adventures of Mr. Costello by David Gerrold (Novella, Fantasy & Science Fiction): This is a sequel to Theodore Sturgeon’s “Mr. Costello, Hero”, which I have not read.  However, “The Further Adventures of Mr. Costello” still stands alone as a very entertaining novella.  The story is from the perspective of a protagonist with a dark past who has joined a farming/ranching family on an alien planet.  One day, a smooth-talking fellow shows up and claims to have a plan to turn a certain violent, unruly local animal into livestock.  This sort of thing has cost many idiots their lives in the past, but what would it mean for their world if he succeeds?  I love Gerrold’s writing style, and how vividly he describes this world, the local ecosystem, and the human society that thrives there.   

A Deeper Green by Samantha Murray (Novelette, Beyond Ceaseless Skies): In this story of a struggling human colony on an alien planet, Juvianna has the ability to enter and alter people’s minds.  In her community, her skill is traditionally used to eradicate the memories of a crime and the feelings that led to it.  In this way, the community does not lose criminals as useful members of society.  With such a powerful gift, some people inevitably have different ideas of how it should be used.  Juvianna must balance her responsibility to her community and loved ones with her own sense of morality. Her gift was a very interesting concept, and I appreciated how the story explored its possibilities for personal and communal help and harm.