Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Elfland, by Freda Warrington


Elfland by Freda Warrington
Published: Tor, 2009

Awards: Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award
1st Book in the ‘Books of the Silver Wheels’ Series
Sub-Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy

The Book:

Aetherials, the elemental creatures some call the faerie folk, live in two worlds.  Some stay in their homeland of the Spiral, while some choose to spend their lives on Earth, blending in with the humans around them. Between these two worlds is a series of Gates, governed by an ordained Gatekeeper.

Elfland tells the story of two Aetherial families, the Fox family and the Wilder family, who live on the Earth.  The Wilders are seen as cold, haughty, and distant, while the Fox family seems full of love and laughter.  While these two families might look very different at first glance, they are hopelessly intertwined, past and future. 

The patriarch of the Wilder family, Lawrence, is the Gatekeeper.  He has angered the entire Earth-based Aetherial community by refusing to open the Gates.  He claims he is protecting them all from some terrible danger, but he is unable or unwilling to explain the situation more clearly.  The Wilder and Fox children now face their life on Earth, without the possibility of ever even visiting their ancestral home.  Some of them are obsessed with penetrating the closed gates, while others desperately want to turn their back entirely on their heritage in order to live a ‘normal’ life.


I have never read a book by Freda Warrington before, and I picked this one up to participate in the Women of Fantasy Book Club discussion. I had no idea what to expect going into this book.  While it is the first of a series, Elfland also works as a stand-alone novel.
My Thoughts:

Elfland seemed to be primarily a romance and a family drama, rather than a fantasy.  The characters and their personal relationships are really the driving force of the story.  The Fox and Wilder families seem rather isolated, as they are almost never seen interacting in a significant way with anyone outside of their small, closed community.  The story follows the Fox and Wilder children from their childhood through their growth into young adults, with all the mistakes and false starts they make in their lives along the way. 

The style of writing was very meticulous about physical detail, particularly visual detail.  I felt like every character was always completely described, down to every strand of hair and facial expression.  All of the characters and important locations were brought to vivid life.  I still have a clear image of each person burnt into my mind, and I finished this book weeks ago.   The prose kept me interested in the book, even at the low points of my interest in the characters and the plot.

The viewpoint jumps a lot throughout the book, but Rosie Fox could be considered the main character.  Rosie is flighty and overdramatic, and she has a very hard time trying to figure out what shape her personal life should take.  Her mistakes along the way tend to be incredibly emotionally destructive to both herself and the people around her.  Her older brother Matthew wants to turn his back on his Aetherial nature, and live fully as human, while her little brother, Lucas, just wants to make the people he loves happy.  The Wilder children, bad-boy Sam and charismatic, druggie Jon, each have their own troubled character arcs that interweave with the Fox children’s.  The older generation has its share of drama as well, and there’s a small group of human friends who find their place in the tapestry of the story.  Overall, it seemed like something of a soap opera, and this feeling was intensified by the absence of anything outside their small community. 

The fantasy elements were the Aetherial nature of the characters and the world of the Spiral.  For much of the book, one could just think of the Aetherials as an isolated ethnic group, since they did not seem much different from humans psychologically. Some of their physical abilities do set them apart, however. Aetherials can travel into the ‘Dusklands’, which is kind of an Aetherial perception overlaying the human world, and transform into more elemental shapes there.  They can also magically will their body not to become pregnant or contract STDs—a useful way to eliminate some of the consequences of sex in the narrative.  Aetherials also live for longer than humans, and are reincarnated in the Spiral after death.  

The humanity of the characters certainly made them feel more real and relatable, but it did result in one small drawback.  It irritated me every time a character blamed their behavior on their ‘wild Aetherial spirit’. They also tried to claim that Aetherials are ‘not bound by human vows’ a few times. I found this a little strange, since no one is literally bound by a promise.  You don’t have to be a fairy to break your promises; anyone can do that.  It was annoying to hear the characters glorify a lack of integrity as a noble trait.

My Rating: 3/5

Since I am usually not a reader of romance, this was not really my type of book.  However, the prose was lovely, and the Foxes, Wilders, and their few friends really sprang to life within the story.  Even so, outside of Lucas and Faith (Rosie's childhood friend), I rarely had positive feelings towards the characters.  Since, in this case, the characters really make the book, I think this affected my ability to get into the story.  I will probably not read the rest of the series anytime soon, but I may come back to it someday, when I'm in the right mood.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: The City & The City by China Miéville


The City & The City by China Miéville
Published: Del Rey, 2009
Awards Won: Hugo, Arthur C. Clarke, World Fantasy, British Science Fiction Association, Locus Fantasy
Nominated: Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial


This is the first book I’ve read by China Miéville.  As you can see by the genre split in the awards, this book is difficult to classify.  When one examines the plot, The City and the City is a detective story.  The protagonist is Inspector Tyador Borlú, and the story follows his investigation of the murder of a young female student, Mahalia Geary.  Solving the case is more complicated than it first appears, and Borlú must deal with both conspiracy theories and the odd difficulties caused by nature of his environment. It is the setting that pushes the story past the realm of a simple murder mystery and into the bounds of speculative, or at least weird, fiction. 

Tyador Borlú lives in Besźel, which seems to be somewhere in Eastern Europe.  What sets Besźel apart from our usual world is its partner city, Ul Qoma.  These two cities have some separate zones and some “cross-hatched” areas, where their land overlaps.  All that truly separates Ul Qoma and Besźel are the perceptions of their respective citizens.  People who live in Besźel are taught from birth to ignore, or “unsee”, anything or anyone in Ul Qoma, and vice versa. To help people always be able to recognize and ignore the foreign, Besźel and Ul Qoma have different architecture, fashion, and even mannerisms.   In some cases, however, this separation is accidentally or deliberately violated. In this case, the mysterious organization called “Breach” swoops down to take control. 
It is between the physical, cultural, and political cities of Besźel and of Ul Qoma that Tyador Borlú must navigate as he searches for the truth behind Mahalia’s murder.  It is possible that she knew something about a mythical third city, “in between the city and the city”, called Orciny.  Her murder leads Borlú deeper and deeper into the connections between Besźel, Ul Qoma, Breach, and Orciny.

My Thoughts:

I found myself taking the viewpoint of a typical foreigner, as described by Borlú.  I had a hard time accepting the separation between Ul Qoma and Besźel.  The whole book was written with a sense of realism and detail, and everything, except the basic premise of the dual city, seemed reasonable.  I’m doubtful that any human organization could possibly police every action and glance of every citizen, as Breach is purported to do.  In order to be sustainable, it seems that the system would need the wholehearted support of every citizen of Besźel and Ul Qoma.  Given my experience of people, in general, I find this very unlikely.

Why would people support this kind of mass doublethink in the first place?  Other than Besźel and Ul Qoma, the world seems to be pretty much the same as our modern world.  In our world, there does not seem to be such a shortage of land that people would be forced to “cross-hatch” their territories.  Was it simply a matter of two ethnic groups claiming the same land?  They would have had to hate each other enough to eliminate interaction through creating these mental borders, but tolerate each other enough to willingly share the same physical territory. 

There just doesn’t seem to be a logical basis for the origination of these cities, nor for the capabilities of the Breach organization.  The dissonance between the realistic style of prose and the impossible elements of the story overshadowed, for me, the actual plot.  I can only think that these elements exist deliberately. The City and the City is a traditional murder mystery whose setting juxtaposes the ordinary with the impossible, and smudges the lines between what is real and what is not.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I was much more enthralled by the setting than the plot or characters.  In the end, though, the setting was more than bizarre enough to keep me entertained.  I’m glad I read this book, and I will probably read his New Crobuzon series at some point in the future.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Reviews by Author

A

Abraham, Daniel - The Dragon's Path
Addison, Katherine - The Goblin Emperor
Ahmed, Saladin - Throne of the Crescent Moon
Anderson, Poul - Genesis
Armstrong, Jon - Yarn
Asaro, Catherine - Quantum Rose
Ashford, Barbara - Spellcast
Asimov, Isaac - The Stars, Like Dust
Atwood, Margaret - The Handmaid's Tale

B
Barzak, Christopher - One for Sorrow
Baxter, Stephen - The Time Ships
Bear, Elizabeth - All the Windwracked Stars
Bear, Greg - Hull Zero Three
Bester, Alfred - The Computer Connection
Beukes, Lauren - Moxyland
Beukes, Lauren - Zoo City
Beukes, Lauren - The Shining Girls
Beukes, Lauren - Broken Monsters
Blish, James - A Case of Conscience
Brin, David - The Uplift War
Brunner, John - Stand on Zanzibar
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Falling Free
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Shards of Honor
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Barrayar
Bujold, Lois McMaster - The Warrior's Apprentice
Bujold, Lois McMaster - The Vor Game
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Cetaganda
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Ethan of Athos
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Cryoburn
Bujold, Lois McMaster - Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Bull, Emma - War for the Oaks
Butcher, Jim - Skin Game
Butler, Octavia E. - Lilith's Brood (a.k.a. Xenogenesis)
Butler, Octavia E. - Parable of the Sower
Butler, Octavia E. - Parable of the Talents

C

Delany, Samuel R. - The Einstein Intersection
Delany, Samuel R. - Babel-17
Dellamonica, A.M. - Indigo Springs
Dellamonica, A.M. - Blue Magic
Dick, Philip K. - The Man in the High Castle
Dick, Philip K. - Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said
Dickson, Gordon R. - The Dragon and the George

E
Egan, Greg - Permutation City

F

Farmer, Philip Jose - To Your Scattered Bodies Go

G

Gaiman, Neil - The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Gentle, Mary - Ash: A Secret History
Ghosh, Amitav - The Calcutta Chromosome
Gibson, William - Count Zero
Gibson, William - Mona Lisa Overdrive
Gladstone, Max - Three Parts Dead
Gladstone, Max - Two Serpents Rise
Gladstone, Max - Full Fathom Five
Gladstone, Max - Last First Snow
Goodman, Alison - Eon
Grant, Mira (real name - Seanan McGuire) - Feed
Grant, Mira (real name - Seanan McGuire) - Deadline
Grant, Mira (real name- Seanan McGuire) - Blackout
Grant, Mira (real name - Seanan McGuire) - Parasite
Greenland, Colin - Take Back Plenty
Griffith, Nicola - Ammonite
Grimwood, Ken - Replay
Grossman, Lev - The Magicians

H

Heinlein, Robert A. - Double Star
Heinlein, Robert A. - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Hurley, Kameron - God's War
Hurley, Kameron - Infidel
Hurley, Kameron - The Mirror Empire
Hurley, Kameron - Empire Ascendant

I
Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
Itäranta, Emmi - Memory of Water

J

Jemisin, N.K. - The Killing Moon
Jemisin, N.K. - The Shadowed Sun
Jemisin, N.K. - The Broken Kingdoms
Jemisin, N.K. - The Kingdom of Gods
Jemisin, N.K. - The Fifth Season
Jemisin, N.K. - The Obelisk Gate
Joyce, Graham - The Silent Land

K
Kay, Guy Gavriel - Under Heaven
Kiernan, Caitlín R. - The Drowning Girl
Kress, Nancy - Beggars in Spain

L

Lackey, Mercedes - Firebird
Lakin-Smith, Kim - Cyber Circus
Lamplighter, L. Jagi - Prospero Lost
Langan, Sarah - Audrey's Door
Le Guin, Ursula K. - The Lathe of Heaven
Leckie, Ann - Ancillary Justice
Leckie, Ann - Ancillary Sword
Leckie, Ann - Ancillary Mercy
Leiber, Fritz - Conjure Wife
Leiber, Fritz - The Big Time
Leicht, Stina - Of Blood and Honey
Liu, Cixin - The Three Body Problem
Liu, Ken - The Grace of Kings
Liu, Ken - The Wall of Storms
Lord, Karen - Redemption in Indigo
Lowachee, Karin - The Gaslight Dogs
Lynch, Scott - The Lies of Locke Lamora
Lynch, Scott - Red Seas Under Red Skies

M
MacAvoy, R.A. - Tea with the Black Dragon
MacLeod, Ian R. - Song of Time
MacLeod, Ken - The Night Sessions
MacLeod, Ken - Intrusion
Marillier, Juliet - The Dark Mirror
Marr, Melissa - Graveminder
Martin, George R.R. - A Dance With Dragons
May, Julian - The Many-Colored Land
McAuley, Paul J. - Fairyland
McDevitt, Jack - Seeker
McDonald, Ian - The Dervish House
McDonald, Ian - King of Morning, Queen of Day
McDonald, Ian - Luna: New Moon
McHugh, Maureen F. - China Mountain Zhang
McIntyre, Vonda M. - The Moon and the Sun
McKillip, Patricia A. - Ombria in Shadow
McKillip, Patricia A. - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
McKillip, Patricia A. - Dreams of Distant Shores
Miéville, China - Embassytown
Miéville, China - Perdido Street Station
Miéville, China - The City & the City
Miller, Walter M. - A Canticle for Leibowitz
Moon, Elizabeth - Remnant Population

N
Naam, Ramez - Nexus: Mankind Gets an Upgrade
Nagata, Linda - The Red: First Light
Ness, Patrick - The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ness, Patrick - The Ask and the Answer
Ness, Patrick - Monsters of Men
Niven, Larry - Ringworld
Niven, Larry - The Integral Trees
Nix, Garth - Sabriel
North, Claire - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Novik, Naomi - Uprooted

O

Okorafor, Nnedi - Who Fears Death
Okorafor, Nnedi - Lagoon
Okri, Ben - The Famished Road

P

Piercy, Marge - He, She & It
Pohl, Frederik - Gateway
Pohl, Frederik - Man Plus
Powers, Richard - Generosity
Powers, Tim - Declare
Powers, Tim - The Anubis Gates
Powers, Tim - Dinner at Deviant's Palace
Pratchett, Terry - The Wee Free Men
Pratchett, Terry - A Hat Full of Sky
Pratchett, Terry - Wintersmith
Pratchett, Terry - I Shall Wear Midnight
Priest, Cherie - Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Priest, Christopher - The Prestige
Priest, Christopher - The Islanders
Priest, Christopher - The Separation

R

Rajaniemi, Hannu - The Quantum Thief
Reynolds, Alastair - House of Suns
Riggs, Ransom - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Roberts, Adam - Jack Glass
Robinson, Kim Stanley - Red Mars
Robinson, Kim Stanley - Green Mars
Robinson, Kim Stanley - Blue Mars
Robinson, Kim Stanley - 2312
Robson, Justina - Mappa Mundi
Rogers, Jane - The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Russell, Mary Doria - The Sparrow

S

Sanderson, Brandon - The Way of Kings
Samatar, Sofia - A Stranger in Olondria
Saramago, José - Blindness
Sawyer, Robert J. - Hominids
Sawyer, Robert J. - Starplex
Sawyer, Robert J. - The Terminal Experiment
Scalzi, John - Redshirts
Simak, Clifford D. - Way Station
Silverberg, Robert - The Stochastic Man
Simmons, Dan - Hyperion
Simmons, Dan - The Fall of Hyperion
Slonczewski, Joan - The Highest Frontier
Smith, Michael Marshall - The Servants
Southard, Janine A. - Queen & Commander
Southard, Janine A. - Hive & Heist
Stephenson, Neal - The Diamond Age
Stephenson, Neal - Snow Crash
Stephenson, Neal - Anathem
Stephenson, Neal - Seveneves
Stewart, Sean - Galveston
Stewart, Sean - Mockingbird
St. John Mandel, Emily - Station Eleven
Stross, Charles - Neptune's Brood
Sullivan, Tricia - Lightborn
Swanwick, Michael - Stations of the Tide

T
Taylor, Laini - Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Tessier, Thomas - Phantom
Traviss, Karen - City of Pearl

V

Vance, Jack - Lyonesse: Suldrun's Garden
Vandermeer, Jeff - Finch
Valente, Catherynne M. - Deathless
Valente, Catherynne M. - The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Valente, Catherynne M. - The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Valente, Catherynne M. - The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
Valentine, Genevieve - Persona
Vinge, Joan D. - The Snow Queen

W


Walton, Jo - Among Others
Walton, Jo - Farthing
Walton Jo - The Just City
Walton, Jo - Tooth and Claw
Warrington, Freda - Elfland
Watts, Peter - Blindsight
Wecker, Helene - The Golem and the Jinni
Weir, Andy - The Martian
Wendig, Chuck - Blackbirds
Westerfeld, Scott - Leviathan
Westerfeld, Scott - Behemoth
Westerfeld, Scott - Goliath
Whitfield, Kit - In Great Waters
Wilhelm, Kate - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
Williamson, Jack - Terraforming Earth
Willis, Connie - All Clear
Willis, Connie - Bellwether
Willis, Connie - Blackout
Willis, Connie - Doomsday Book
Wilson, Robert Charles - Spin
Wilson, Robert Charles - Axis
Wilson, Robert Charles - Vortex
Wilson, Robert Charles - The Chronoliths
Wolfe, Gene - The Shadow of the Torturer
Wolfe, Gene - The Claw of the Conciliator
Wolfe, Gene - The Sword of the Lictor
Wolfe, Gene - The Citadel of the Autarch

Y

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hello World!


This blog will eventually contain (I hope) many reviews of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.  Right now, of course, it contains absolutely nothing.

I am participating in two fantastic book clubs, the Women of Science Fiction and the Women of Fantasy, for 2011.  January's books have already been pretty thoroughly discussed, so I won't add any reviews here.

For February, the selections are Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and Freda Warrington's Elfland. If you haven't read The Dispossessed,  I recommend it. I would be re-reading it now, if I hadn't misplaced my copy on another continent.  I am currently working my way through the Warrington book, and I intend to review it on the last day of this month.

Other books I am currently reading include Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, and China Miéville's The City and the City. There are also a number of books that I have not yet started to read, but will begin in the relatively near future.  All of these are listed below.

To Sum Up

Books Which Will be Reviewed Soon:

  • Elfland, by Freda Warrington
  • The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
  • Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The City and the City, by China Miéville
Books I Will Probably Read Soon:
  • Gateway, by Frederik Pohl
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
  • Prospero Lost, by  L. Jagi Lamplighter
  • Darkship Thieves, by Sarah Hoyt
  • Stations of the Tide, by Michael Swanwick