Archive for Michelle Sagara

End-of-year book meme

Posted in Books, Crime, Fantasy, Science fiction, Young adult with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2013 by Cara Marie

How many books read in 2012?

76 books. This includes novellas, so they were not all very long books. It doesn’t include comic books.

Fiction/non-fiction ratio?

I read eight non-fiction books … that’s one for every 8.5 fiction books.

In other genre distinctions, 60% of the books I read were sci-fi/fantasy (not including JD Robb, as they’re primarily crime and the SF element is usually just the setting). I read four adult fiction books that weren’t SFF or crime stories! Which is … the same number I read every year.

Male/female authors?

I read 18 books by male authors (including half-marks for cowritten books or anthologies) and 58 by female authors.

I always find it weird when people challenge themselves to read more books by female authors, because my bias is so far the other way! Clearly it is my inner misandry showing through.

Favourite book read?

Michelle Sagara wins this year, because I would be hard-pressed to choose between her YA standalone novel, Silence, and the eighth book in ‘The Chronicles of Elantra’, Cast in Peril.

Silence is a book that, when described, sounds like your typical paranormal YA, complete with antagonistic love interest. But it’s not typical at all.

I really loved that the teenaged characters in it were so sensible and kind to one another. That no-one made stupid decisions to generate tension. There’s a lot of YA that goes the other way, and it always annoys me, because that’s not what my experience of being a teenager was like. I don’t mean to say that there’s no conflict between the characters – but it’s not showy, and it rings true.

This isn’t a complete summary of why I liked the book; just one of the things that made it for me.

Cast in Peril I wrote about at the time, in contrast to one of the books covered in the next question. I went through a period of avoiding series fiction; this book serves as an example of how well fantasy series can work. How you can really dig into the world-building, and discover new things. How a book can be the opposite of standalone and still be completely satisfying.

The part of me that still wants to avoid series fiction is freaking out a little – how on earth did I end up reading an 8+ book series? There weren’t that many when I started!

Cast in Peril was also the book that made me realise me and this e-books thing was going to work out, and that I didn’t need everything I loved in hardcopy.

Least favourite?

Not sure whether to go with Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken (as discussed in ‘Where (not) to end a book‘) or Tanith Lee’s Piratica III: The Family Sea. The former I probably enjoyed more for the first two-thirds, so it was a greater disappointment when I turned out to hate it. But I might say Piratica III anyway – I think I’m quite glad I didn’t read it when it first came out, when I was more invested in the characters, because I would have been hugely disappointed. (skip) I think I can see what Tanith Lee was trying to do, having Art’s marriage fail, and her ending up alone and free. But I didn’t feel that freedom in the end – it just felt bleak to me.

Oldest book read?

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Also the first book I read last year. I was quite bewildered afterwards – not about the stories, but about the Sherlock interpretation of Holmes being kind of an asshole. (I’ve never actually watched Sherlock; this is just the impression I’ve received.) Book!Holmes is not an asshole at all! He might not be that interested in people, but he’s still considerate to them.

Also, I was proud of myself because there were a couple of mysteries I figured out before they were revealed. I like to pretend that’s an achievement.

Newest?

The Silvered, by Tanya Huff. Came out in November and I read it in December. I wrote a not-very-deep review at the time.

Longest book title?

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, by Nancy Kress. Long title, short book. This is such a pointless question I feel like I have to talk about the book, now. The three parts of the title refer to the three POVs the book switches between. ‘The fall’ refers to an apocalypse. I enjoyed this quite a bit at the start, but I think overall the pay-off wasn’t there. It had the sort of conclusion that could work for me in a short story, but doesn’t work for me in a longer work.

Shortest title?

Silence or Mastiff. I’ve talked about Silence already, so … Mastiff was the third and final book in Tamora Pierce’s Provost’s Dog series. It was also the least memorable of the three. Enough so that I don’t know if I really have anything to say about it. The first book was my favourite, because it was the one that was most a ‘school story’, with a supporting cast I really enjoyed. And that doesn’t really get carried through into the later books. Which make sense re: the ‘school story’ aspect, but I miss Rosto and Kora and Aniki. (You will note I remember their names, but not the names of the supporting cast in Mastiff.)

I guess Pierce was more interested in the crime novel aspect for this series, but that’s not what I read her for, and it was at the expense of the elements I really love.

How many re-reads?

Only three, which seems low. But then, I guess this is the first year I’ve had a full-time job the whole time, so I’m more inclined to read new things.

Most books read by one author this year?

I read ten JD Robb books – I guess I used these as my comfort fiction, rather than re-reading things. Her ‘In Death’ books are basically a procedural in book form. Except the main couple got together in the first couple of books so there’s no ridiculous ‘will they, won’t they?’ (This shouldn’t necessarily be a procedural trope, but it seems to be.) Also, they’re set in the future! My favourite mysteries are probably the ones that have the most to do with technology – although I think Witness in Death has been my favourite overall, and that one does not, so.

They’re standalone books, and I’ve read them completely out of order. They do benefit from being read chronologically, because of the way the characters and relationships develop over the long-term. On the other hand, there’s more than forty of them. So I think picking the ones with the most interesting-sounding mysteries is probably the best route to reading them.

Any in translation?

Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake was the only translated book I read this year.

And how many of this year’s books were from the library?

About six. For which I accrued some ridiculous fines, so I’m avoiding the library at the moment.

Where (not) to end a book

Posted in Books, Crime, Fantasy with tags , , on October 16, 2012 by Cara Marie

I read Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Peril last week. It’s the eighth book in her Chronicles of Elantra. As of the last book, the Hawks have agreed to send our heroine Kaylin on a journey to the West Marches – perhaps it is more a pilgrimage – to observe a Barrani ceremony that takes place there. This book, for the most part, follows that journey.

The Elantra books all have mystery/crime novel elements, but in this book they’re not at the forefront. It’s not quite as eventful as some of the others, but that’s not a bad thing – it’s actually quite relaxing, and for the characters too I think. We learn a lot about the world, about the history of the Barrani, about Kaylin’s friend, colleague and mentor Teela. Also Kaylin gets an awesome dragon familiar. I enjoyed it a lot.

And, as the book drew to a close, I realised – hang on, they’re not actually going to get to the West Marches in this book, are they?

So, in some ways, it’s half a book: because the end of the journey, and its goal, have yet to come. On the other hand, it does resolve the mystery from the beginning, and connects it to what’s been going on in the background of the earlier novels. And because it concludes that element – we get a confrontation, and see Kaylin survive it – the book is still satisfying on its own.

Also, once you’re eight books in, I think you’ve earned the right to cut a major narrative arc in half!

The reason I point this out is because the feeling I had at the end was so different from that I had at the end of another book I read recently. With Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken, I had that same feeling of: hang on, this isn’t actually going to finish, is it?

(Non-specific spoilers ahead.)

I hadn’t realised Unspoken was the first book in a series; I was expecting a stand-alone. For the most part, it’s the story of a teenage wannabe-journalist, Kami Glass, who sets about uncovering a mystery in her town. But towards the end, the whole scope of that mystery widens. The novel doesn’t end with our heroine winning, for today: she and her friends survive, but they haven’t defeated anything, and the conspiracy is bigger than they had realised.

So that’s a downer. But on top of that, the person who is closest to Kami in the world basically dumps her. Sarah Rees Brennan could not have picked a lower point to end on.

This didn’t make me excited for the next book to come out. Instead, it spoiled the whole thing for me. And I had been enjoying the book. But it’s not a complete story, and it ends in such a dark place that I cannot accept it as the first novel in a series.

It’s half a novel instead. You can chop a book in pieces if you’re Tad Williams and your novel is several thousand pages long. But it didn’t work for me in Unspoken.

And with the story split in half like that, I feel like the second book is going to be quite different from the first one. Which is a natural part of changing the scope like that, and which I wouldn’t mind if I were reading straight on. But it’s not what I signed up for when I started Unspoken, and the ending of that soured me enough that I don’t really want to read on.

I haven’t been this annoyed at the ending of a book since The Knife of Never Letting Go, which tagged on a cliffhanger in the last scene. It would have ended quite satisfyingly without, and I would have looked forward to the follow up. I don’t need to be tricked into reading a sequel with a cliffhanger, or a false ending. If I enjoy a book, I’ll naturally want to read the next one. But if you end at a place where the story is unfinished (and if you’re not an ongoing series with enough going on that you’ve earnt that) … well, that just feels like a cheat.

My best books in 2010

Posted in Action/adventure, Books, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Short stories, Young adult with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by Cara Marie

It’s that time again! These are my favourite 2010 prose releases, in varying detail; I’ll hopefully come back to the comics later.

Young adult fiction

Life Swap (Abby McDonald) was a book I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did. An English and a Californian girl ‘swap places’ – they’ve both applied for an exchange program at the last minute, and are accepted with the proviso that it is a direct swap – so Tasha, who has been a bit of a slacker, is doing political theory at Oxford, and Emily is taking film studies. There’s a great deal of culture shock, and struggling to meet people’s differing expectation. I loved both parts of the story: Tasha’s coming to a sex-positive understanding of feminism, in the face of more judgemental attitudes, struggling to do well when no one thinks she can; Emily learning to loosen up, to look outside the life she’s always had lined up for herself, and discovering other things she’s good at.

There’s romance for both of them, which does and does not work out, but which are important for what they learn about themselves in the process. They befriend those they hadn’t thought they could relate to, and they befriend each other too, messaging each other, trying to figure out how to not feel so alone.

I was expecting this to be a light read, and it is, but it’s also a fine character study, smarter and more satisfying than the cover would lead you to believe. It’s sold as YA, but it’s set at university/college, and it was nice to read about people closer to my own age and stage in life.

A book I did have expectations for, on the other hand, was the sequel to Anna MacKenzie’s Sea-Wreck Stranger, a gorgeous, low-key post-apocalyptic novel. Ebony Hill did not disappoint.

(This spoils the ending of Sea-Wreck Stranger, but I don’t know that’s a big deal – that book ends in a pretty inevitable way.)

Having left the island she grew up on, Ness is still trying to find her place in a new society, that while more technologically sophisticated, is not having an easier time of it. Trouble strikes when the farm Ness is staying at comes under attack.

The novel deals matter-of-factly, unflinchingly with the consequences of these attacks – not just the loss of life, but the threat to the city that rely on the farms for survival. The community fleeing isn’t an option: people need that harvest. And Ness gets caught up in this.

The novel doesn’t valorise fighting: Ness does what she needs to, but her skills are elsewhere, and just as necessary for survival. The story has a very practical focus, which is one of the things I appreciate so much about it. This isn’t a bleak or romantic post-apocalypse story, it’s people doing their best to thrive as well as survive; it’s the rebuilding of society, and how fragile that is. I think it’s a kind of story there should be more of.

Honourable mention: Sarwat Chadda’s Dark Goddess, the sequel to The Devil’s Kiss. Even more of an adventure story, and with a less Abrahamic focus. More female characters too. Billi is a marvellous heroine, struggling to deal with conflicting loyalties, determined to do her best and do her job and save the world while she’s at it. I enjoyed this a lot.

Adult fiction

Mira Grant’s Feed I have already written about a bit. Zombies as science fiction rather than horror. I feel like I need a second copy of this so I can give it to more people. I got a text from my mother while she was away saying, “I never thought a book about zombies would make me cry.” Me neither.

Tansy Rayner Robert’s Power and Majesty was fabulous secondary-world fantasy, in a classical rather than medieval setting, with fantasy elements that felt fresh, a focus on female friendship, the kind of fucked-up secondary characters you hate to like, and a heroine who is able to save the day because of her feminine qualities, and be a better leader because of them.

NK Jemison’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms managed to hit a lot of my story kinks beautifully, in a way that reminded me of my favourite Tanith Lee stories. I love love love stories that are really mythic, so I raced through this. The sequel is also very good, though less id-y and maybe not as well structured. On the other hand, Oree was more memorable to me than Yeine, even if Yeine’s story-arc hit me more, and I enjoyed the different perspective it gave to the world.

Honourable mentions for new books in continuing series: Tanya Huff’s The Truth of Valor kept it fresh, and Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Chaos went even more epic than before. Seanan McGuire’s An Artifical Night was probably my favourite new urban fantasy book for the year, in a year which really solidified my love of the genre.

Short story collection

I picked up Angela Slatter’s The Girl With No Hands at Worldcon, after I heard her putting a copy of The Secret Feminist Cabal aside and deciding that meant her stories were probably ones I’d be interested in. My favourite is ‘The Living Book’, which despite beginning in a fairy tale setting, perfectly fulfills my robot kink. Many of these stories are drawn from fairy tales, finding other ways to look at them. It’s other ways to look at things in general, including a disturbing antidote to all these zombie love stories I cannot believe exist. There’s a lot that verges on horror here, all beautifully told.

Dragon + Sentient Building = OTP

Posted in Books, Fantasy with tags , , on October 23, 2009 by Cara Marie

Having, finished Cast in Silence I have now read all the Chronicles of Elantra books thus far out. Whatever am I going to read next?

At the end of book 2, this was my list of things I wanted more of:

  • more Lord Nightshade
  • more history
  • more secrets
  • more Teela being snarky
  • more of Kaylin’s Dragon tutor being snarky
  • more hangouts at Nightshade’s awesome creepy house
  • Kaylin gets to bust some heads

Amendations after reading book 3 and realising I’d completely forgotten about Tiamaris from the first book:

  • more Tiamaris
  • more sentient buildings
  • more Ybelline

Things this book provides

Cast in Courtlight (Chronicles of Elantra #2)- Michelle Sagara

Posted in Books, Fantasy with tags on September 23, 2009 by Cara Marie

Cast in Courtlight is the second book in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, following the adventures of Kaylin, once a street kid, now a Hawk, the equivalent of the police force for her world. But Kaylin is not your everyday cop: since childhood, she has born a set of markings, like tattoos but that they change, written in a language no-one can read, and giving her powers no-one can quite understand. The first book revolved around the mystery of these markings, and of a series of child murders in the slums that were once her home. In the second book, Kaylin has saved the world, and dealing with the fallout from that.

What I am loving most about these books is the world-building. It’s secondary-world fantasy, but it’s very much urban too – our heroine is a cop, the magical technology is sophisticated enough that the world feels fairly modern. At the same time there is a sense of history, steeped in old dark magic, which people don’t understand, but which they have built their civilisations over nonetheless. In Kaylin’s trip to the Barrani Courts, we get a glimpse into the workings of this ancient magic, which the Barrani are dependent on, and which the Barrani – barely – keep controlled.

Elantra is a world of several races, in the fantasy sense of the word (also the everyday sense of the word, I am thinking). We’ve thus far only had glimpses into the histories of these peoples – probably we know the most about the Barrani – but what there is is intriguing. I’m probably reading these as much to find out about the world as for the plot and characters.

The world-building then, is awesome. The plot is engaging. The writing is merely serviceable – I thought this book had a better flow that the first in the series, but you still get entire conversations where you don’t really know what they’re on about. On the other hand, the use of eye colour to show emotion in some of the races that worked so well for me in the last book didn’t here – I just couldn’t recall the distinction between blue and green, rendering all references to those colours meaningless.

The need to recall such details means it’s probably best to read the books in quick succession – it’s been a few months since I read the first, and it took a while to catch back up. Sagara did a pretty good job of jogging your memory without overexplaining, but the world is just so dense, and it’s easy to lose track.

A couple of notes with my feminist hat on: I appreciated in this book how Kaylin was required not so much for her services as a Hawk, but rather in her role as a midwife – it’s not her job, but she has healing abilities that mean she’s often called on for difficult births. I liked that we had a stereotypically female role being the one necessary to save the day.

Also, even though Kaylin’s most important relationships are with men – with Severn, with the Hawklord, with Nightshade – they’re not the sum of her relationships. Which is apparently an area urban fantasy has been known to fall down. She and Teela are mates, the Barrani Consort takes a shine to her, she interacts with women in ways that aren’t related to men, and defines herself in the memory of her ‘girls’ who died. She is an uber-powerful woman, without that meaning there aren’t other awesome women who are important to her.

I am totally keen for the next book now – more excited than I was for this one, certainly. Things I am hoping for: more Lord Nightshade, more history, more secrets, more Teela being snarky, more of Kaylin’s Dragon tutor being snarky, and more hangouts at Nightshade’s awesome creepy house. I’m also hoping Kaylin gets to bust some heads (we didn’t have so much of the crime-fighting in this book).

What new and amazing powers will Kaylin take on in this next book? Which important people will she matter to? I dont know, and I can’t wait!

Not quite a haunted house, but still out to get you

Posted in Books, Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Junior fiction, Middle fiction, Movies, Science fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2009 by Cara Marie

I was going to write review of all the urban fantasy I’ve been reading this month, but when I started I got distracted by sentient buildings. Buildings that are always changing; buildings that want to trick you, want to test you. Buildings with a mind of their own.

Tanya Huff’s Wizard of the Grove was a formative instance of this for me, as it was for so much else in the sf genre. It’s what appealed to me so much in The Secret Garden: the idea of a house so large it can actually hold secrets. It probably dates back to The Labyrinth for me, to the geography of a place that wants to trick you, a place that is always changing, that has a mind of its own. You go into the house, maybe, or you go underground. Did the underworld Persephone wandered through change around her? Would the pomegranate tree be there for anyone else?

I was thinking about this as I finished Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Courtlight (late) last night. Our hero Kaylin is called to the Barrani courts, where the building predates any civilisation still extant. The buildings the Barrani lords make their homes in have an inconstant geography, as we saw in the first book of this series, but Courtlight goes further with it.

We see the ways in which Barrani life is inseparable from these buildings, the ways in which they test themselves against the buildings, against the intelligence behind the buildings themselves. It is not necessarily a friendly one, and indeed there is a dark secret behind the tests the Barrani take. This is what kept me gripped through the long hours of the night.

Further instances of buildings that like to keep you on your toes:

  • The house in Flora Segunda, Crackpot Hall. Which is also a boy, if it wants. The main reason I fell so badly for this book was the house – when oh when will Flora’s Dare come out in paperback so I can at last buy a copy?
  • Probably the best known, Hogwarts. What with the Room of Requirement, the near bountiless potential for exploration… The Philosopher’s Stone is probably the most literal example of the test, but the geography of Hogwarts forms a key element in later books as well.
  • Tanya Huff’s The Better Part of Valor. In this one, instead of a building we have ‘Big Yellow’, a mysterious spaceship with rooms that shape themselves to the memories of those who come inside, which tests them, and which seems to have its own intelligence. To explain any further would be a spoiler for later books, but it’s pretty awesome!
  • The Tanya Huff book that started it all for me, Wizard of the Grove. Which was written as two books. In the second one, Crystal and her companions venture into the lair of a long dead wizard; but wizards love games, and time has not dulled its danger. Crystal has to pull some serious badass-ery to get them out of this, and personally, I think I’d rather the a less malevolent building.
  • Chilblain Hall, the home of Glister in Andi Watson’s comics for young girls. Chilblain Hall is always changing, always presenting Glister with something new and exciting, and, as we see in The House Hunt, it is a house that can get in a huff. The nicest house of the lot.
  • In Tanith Lee’s Claidi books, there are many large houses, and many secrets. That of Wolf Star Rise fits best in this category: the rooms physically, palpably move round. It’s less old magic and more steampunk. This was my favourite of the Claidi books: the Rise is probably why.
  • The icon for this post is particularly relevant, as it’s taken from the Gormenghast miniseries. The rooms of Gormenghast might not move around, but castle is big enough that you could never know it all – and it definitely has a presence of its own.
  • And for movies, what else was The Cube? Probably the closest of the books in terms of the nastiness of the tests is Wizard of the Grove, but unlike any of these books, The Cube is definitely horror. The tests aren’t really to be overcome; you are pitted against your companions as much as against yourself. It is probably all a ginormous metaphor.

Buildings always change in dreams. A favourite of mine was when my brain took this to its logical conclusion and assumed I must be in some kind of alien construction where the house was out to get me; it didn’t want me there, and it changed its best to kill my group off. Sarah’s Labyrinth may not be real – its her own inner landscape she pits herself against, perhaps. The logic of these houses may be very much like dream logic; you cannot approach them rationally. You have to trust to your own wits and instincts that you can take what the building throws at you, that you can navigate through and not be forever lost. And if you stay still, you lose.