Archive for Tanith Lee

Red Unicorn

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young adult with tags on February 20, 2014 by Cara Marie

Just reread Tanith Lee’s Red Unicorn, which is the third and last of her books about the sorceress’s daughter Tanaquil, and for some reason the only one that I reread.

At the end of the second book, Tanaquil and her beloved mutually agreed to break up, because Tanaquil’s sister also loved him, and really, needed him more than Tanaquil did, so it was for the best.

Tanaquil then returns home to her mother, miserable because of the break-up, because of having put herself in a situation where she has nothing to distract her from the break-up, and because her mother and even her familiar are finding themselves in love.

That’s the first segment of the book. In the second segment, Tanaquil finds herself in another world, curiously disjointed from her own, where there is a Tanakil, who also has a sister, and who is also in love … Read more »

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.


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.

ramblings on dystopias

Posted in Books, Science fiction, TV with tags , , , , on August 30, 2010 by Cara Marie

Someone commented on one of the Au Contraire panels yesterday on how dystopic New Zealand SF is, and wondering why that was. The panelists blamed it on the weather; I refrained from snarking that it is because dystopias are the respectable science fiction. Maybe because they have very obvious social relevance? So they can be literature where an adventure story cannot. And New Zealand only really publishes adult fiction if it’s literary.

I know that when selling books, I have no trouble selling dystopias (at least when I don’t start, it’s about a reality TV show where they get kids to kill each other!), but I do selling, shall I say secondary world genre fiction? But then I feel like the majority of YA science fiction is dystopic to begin with. Recently, at least – I don’t think there were so many when I started at the bookshop. It would probably be quite interesting to look at the prevalance of dystopias over time.

At the panel, someone, perhaps the same person, also said that New Zealand doesn’t really do utopias. And I thought, hang on, does anyone do utopias? A utopia does not make for a good story. I don’t think I have ever read an honest-to-goodness utopia story. There are always secret slaves or intense social conditioning, or the utopia is hollow because it is somehow not a real experience of living.

When I think of my imaginary thesis, I think of it in terms of ‘false utopias’ rather than dystopias, because, in my personal vocabulary, a dystopia is Bad from the beginning. The people do not actually believe they are living in a perfect world, even if that is what the government might say. At the start of Tanith Lee’s Claidi books, for instance, Claidi does not believe she is living in a perfect world – she knows quite well her life is shit. In Andra, on the other hand, people have honestly bought into the rhetoric of their world – Andra only sees it for what it is because she has had a brain transplant from a twentieth-century teenager.

I also do not think the Patrick Ness books are dystopic, though I have read them described as such – for me, only Prentisstown could really be considered a dystopia. After that, the story is something else … and the second two books are awful, but it is because they are about war, not because they are about life under entrenched social control.

I am currently watching This is Not my Life, which is a false utopia. It’s a New Zealand sci-fi show; a man wakes up in this perfect little community, and he doesn’t remember who he is, and he thinks he has had a life before this one. I do not know how to discuss it without being spoilery, and because I think it is worth watching, and it may yet go to the rest of the world, I don’t really want to just go ahead! But we are five or so episodes into it, and it is getting really good, and doing things I wasn’t expecting. Even with all the false utopias I have read. It is different from any TV show I have ever seen before, and it is taking its SF seriously.

(Also I cannot wait to get it on DVD so I can vid it.)

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.

My favourite books of 2008

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2009 by Cara Marie

Because the only thing I love as much as reading books is talking about books.

Best YA SF

This was a good year for young adult SF. My favourite was The Traitor Game, from B.R. Collins (B is for Bridget – oh, Bloomsbury, I love you but this makes me sad). It’s told as two co-thematic stories – the contemporary one, of course, but instead of an old diary, where the protagonist might find their troubles echoed in the past, we have a story set in the invented world of our protagonist. This is the world he escapes too, though it is no less harsh than ours, and no less affecting of the reader.

I reviewed The Traitor Game shortly after reading it, and I’m glad to say it came out with the lovely cover here. It’s a gorgeous book.

The Savage, written by David Almond and illustrated by Dave McKean, is another gorgeous book, though the pictures tells as much of the story as the words. I mention it here because it’s another story within a story – a boy writes a tale that begins to merge with his own life. I compared it to Isobelle Carmody and Stephen Woolman’s Dreamwalker.

Honourable mentions: Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. The former suffered only from an unnecessary cliffhanger, and the latter I can’t fault technically, only it didn’t leave me as disturbed at the ending of it as The Traitor Game did.

New releases from favourite authors that didn’t ping me quite as well as I wanted were Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia. I’ll probably have to go back to them. I want to talk about why The Graveyard Book didn’t quite do it for me, but I think that’ll have to be a post on its own.

Best Adult SF

All the kids’ books mentioned were 2008 releases, and in hardback what’s more. My adult reading is a lot less current.

Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales was a two volume release, In the Night Garden in 2006, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice in 2007. I read them both at the start of this year, and reviewed them considerably later for the Salient women’s issue. Completely strange and wonderous.

Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels was less wonderous and more tear-at-your-heart. Notice how definitely I am sticking it in the adult section. I don’t know that this one will be a keystone for me, but I am certainly happy to pimp it out to everyone I can, over the age of 18.

I got more joy from reading Tanya Huff’s Valor series, though I’ve yet to read the most recent volume, which came out this year in hardback. I imprinted on Tanya Huff back when I was in intermediate, reading Wizard of the Grove. The Valor books are completely different from that duology – one epic, though female-centred, fantasy, one military SF. Tanya Huff can do the action, and she can do the wonderful, and she can also do the hilarious. Love love love.

Weirdest Books

Tanith Lee does wonderful too, but she can also do bizarre. I think Eva Fairdeath may be about her first book. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disturbed being in a character’s head.

A different kind of weird is Nishio Ishin’s Death Note tie-in novel, Another Note. It had ridiculous names, yes, but it also had a surprisingly satisfying denouement, and some intriguing repercussions for the series. And, of course, it was total crack, and in a beautifully presented package. If only I could remember who I lent it to.

I think Another Note is probably the only thing on this list was isn’t SF, and that’s only if you ignore the premise of the series it’s based off. I am not going to do anything about this deficit. Instead, I am going to move on.


I like stories about stories, and I also like my non-fiction to be about stories. I read the Norton Classic Fairy Tales around this time last year. It’s edited by Maria Tatar, and filled with goodies -such as the multiple variations of each of the included tales, including contemporary reworkings, which are fascinating put next to each other. There’s so much more in the evolution of a fairy story than you might expect. The collection of criticism at the end is also engaging, giving us other scholars to look out for, and also providing the opportunity to laugh at the Freudians.

At the end of the year, I read Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, which looks at fairy tales from a more personal perspective. It’s mostly essays, written by female writers and edited by Kate Bernheimer. It got me to thinking about my own fairy tale reading, and led me to a mostly forgotten author.

Other books that discuss fairy tales and the lives of women I read this year were Spinning Straw into Gold, which left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and Women Who Run with the Wolves, which was a compulsive read, though I didn’t entirely buy it.

I read 107 books through last year, not including the many picture books and early readers that one picks up working in a children’s bookshop. I’m really pleased that I’ve kept a record. You wouldn’t think I’d bitched so much about doing reading logs at high school, for sure.

Eva Fairdeath – Tanith Lee

Posted in Books with tags on January 21, 2008 by Cara Marie

Today I counted and I have 21 Tanith Lee books. I only (just) have more Tamora Pierce – but I have all of her books, and only a fraction of Tanith Lee’s – none of her vampire books, for example. I have been reading her since I was in primary school and got out Black Unicorn from the library. Because I was very into unicorns. But I went on from there, mostly buying her books secondhand.

What I wanted to talk about was Eva Fairdeath, which I picked up from Ace Books in Levin (oh, the wonders of secondhand books that are actually cheap!). Eva Fairdeath was a weird reading experience, because the main character was crazy. Actually crazy. I would sit there wondering what the hell was wrong with her, although it’s not like the introduction didn’t warn me. But you’re usually not in that person’s head – it’s kind of amazing.

Eva’s raised in a future where woman is object, and Eva herself is treated particularly bad, being albino. She’s grown up nasty as hell and with nothing to enjoy, so when she encounters the man she names Steel, who ‘sells death’, she inflicts her presence on him and runs away with him. Steel is also crazy, and watching them interact is quite fascinating.

The other member of their threesome is Sail. If Eva is scared of Steel leaving her, Sail she’s scared is going ’round with other women. Maybe, but he’s mad about her. Sail seems like the sanest of the three, being the charming rogue type, rather than the cold-blooded killer, or hysterical woman. But the sense is that only together do they make a whole. Yay for functioning threesomes! You know, sort of. You certainly wouldn’t want to cross them.

It’s a very disconcerting read, but a worthwhile one.

Readings for November, with many short stories

Posted in Books, Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Short stories with tags , , , , on December 2, 2007 by Cara Marie

Readings for November