Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher
Published: Sofawolf Press (2017), Red Wombat (2016)
Awards Nominated: Lodestar Award for Best YA Novel

The Book:

When the witch Baba Yaga walks her house into the backyard, eleven-year-old Summer enters into a bargain for her heart's desire. Her search will take her to the strange, surreal world of Orcus, where birds talk, women change their shape, and frogs sometimes grow on trees. But underneath the whimsy of Orcus lies a persistent darkness, and Summer finds herself hunted by the monstrous Houndbreaker, who serves the distant, mysterious Queen-in-Chains…” ~Red Wombat

This one was free (link above) and up for the Lodestar Award, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I didn’t realize T. Kingfisher was an alternate name for Ursula Vernon until after I’d read it.  I’ve enjoyed some of her short fiction, too.

My Thoughts:

Summer in Orcus is a traditional portal fantasy with some unusual elements, targeting a middle grade to young adult audience.  I’d recommend it for people who like Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series (and vice versa), since I feel like they both have the same kind of whimsical fantasy with more serious themes running throughout.  In this case, the real-world themes involve Summer’s relationship with her mother, who struggles with allowing her anxiety to limit her young daughter’s life.  Summer loves her mother, but also feels like maybe it would be alright if she had some adventures. Her mother’s anxiety shapes the way Summer views herself and the world around her, conflicting with her desire to explore and experience.

Summer’s ambitions in her secondary world are more modest than I expected.  She doesn’t think of herself as a girl who could save the world, but she does hope that she might save something-- in this case, a magical tree that sprouts frogs. In pursuit of this and her heart’s desire, she ends up gathering a small party of allied fantastical creatures. She wanders from odd situation to situation, and her only assurance that she’s on the right track is the occasional presence of a particular color (which reminds me of hiking trails).  Her path is not without resistance, though, and when she does meet with violence, it is abrupt and terrifying. In general, bad things in Orcus have a particular kind of weary, despairing, cynical darkness that I have not often seen in works targeting younger readers. Anyway, Summer’s journey does have an eventual destination, and I thought it wrapped up her personal arc well.

My Rating: 3.5 /5 

Summer in Orcus is a young adult/middle grade portal fantasy that I would recommend to fans of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series.  The fantasy land, Orcus, is full of interesting and quirky supernatural creatures and lands, and the heroine, Summer, feels authentic to me as a child protagonist. She enters Orcus with fairly modest goals, carrying with her the influences of her mother’s struggle with anxiety.  She may not be a warrior or a hero, but she has her own journey to travel, and her own heart’s desire to find. Summer’s story feels very episodic at times, but I thought it came to a good resolution in the end.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Read-Along: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, Part 3 [END]

I’ve been a little delayed, but today I have the final post for the Read-Along of Becky Chambers’s Record of a Spaceborn Few. The discussion here may include spoilers from the entire book, so be warned.  Sometime in the near future, I plan to post my usual review of the book. Overall, I felt like this was a very peaceful book, largely about good people figuring out their own lives.

Ghuh'loloan's offer of help to reach out to the galactic community in a different way speaks volumes about her thoughtfulness, and how well she's truly learned during her time on the Asteria. What do you think of her suggestions for how to help the Fleet thrive, going forward?

I’m glad that this part of the story, at least, has a relatively happy ending.  I hope that her efforts do help the fleet for the future, and that it remains viable and even grows to be able to contribute to the galactic community.  

Tessa makes her decision, after receiving an unexpected gift of her own ... What are your thoughts on her choice, and on her relationship with George now that we've seen more of him?

I think her choice makes sense, given how traumatized her daughter was by the fleet ship’s destruction.  She lives in a place where Aya can feel safe now. I was a little surprised that George decided to come with them on a permanent basis.  Before, their relationship really felt more like a friendship to me than a couple. That was both because of the distance between them, but also just because of how they interacted with one another.  It looks like that might be shifting towards a more traditional kind of couple relationship. And you never know, maybe George will be a great baker one day. In an odd coincidence, my husband is also baking a new type of bread while I’m typing this. Maybe he and George have some things in common.

Eyas and Sunny build a relationship of a different sort, first when she visits him at home and then when they come up with the outreach programme. How do you feel about this budding new relationship (yes this is a shipping question and no I'm not sorry), and would you visit somewhere like the Asteria if you knew that this help would be offered?

I think they make good friends, and they could certainly try out being something more!  I think their class will be very helpful, not just for potential immigrants but also for tourists and business travelers.  There are so many things about a community that you can’t know from the outside, and that no one would think to tell you. I think that having this kind of a program available, and advertising it, makes the Fleet look much more welcoming to everyone. I typically only travel to places where I think I will feel safe, and a program like this would certainly help to give that impression. 

Time moves on, and Kip grows up, and my heart swells. What are your final thoughts about the changes in him, both before and after returning home to the Fleet?

I knew he was a good kid!  It was nice to see how living outside the Fleet changed his perspective of it, and to see how it began to be a unique heritage that he actually wanted to share with his alien friends.  I was kind of skeptical when Isabelle said she thought Kip should be an archivist, but I think he did really grow into it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Read-Along: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, Part 2

It’s time for the second post in the read-along of Becky Chambers’s Record of a Spaceborn Few.  This post will cover parts 2-4, so beware of spoilers up to there!  A lot happened this time, and I am now no longer expecting any kind of traditional overarching plot. This is entirely a slice-of-life story about living in the Exodan Fleet.  Now, on to the questions:

Sawyer's story comes to a rather abrupt end in these chapters... Were you surprised by his fate? And do you sympathise with his situation, or did he bring that on himself?

I did not see it coming in the slightest.  Even after the narrative said he had died, I thought maybe he was just unconscious, until Kip and his friend overheard about the disposal of his body.  He was a perspective character! They’re supposed to be safe! I feel bad for Sawyer, so yes I did sympathize with him. 

As for how he died, Oats should really have considered that Sawyer was from a planet.  He didn’t have the same kinds of instincts drilled into him as people who grew up in spaceships.  He was upset, and stressed, and I think it was reasonable that he didn’t consider the danger posed by a sealed door in vacuum.  His crew should have taken care of him, and they didn’t.

In general, though, I did see that he was headed for trouble.  The “salvage crew” he joined was really obviously shady, and he just blew past every warning.  “We like to keep our postings off the lists”, the pinhole drive, how the parameters of the job started changing once he could no longer back out.  I expected him to end up arrested, and Eyas would have to speak for him. At the very least, I’m glad she was there to identify him, and to grieve for him.    

It seems as though Tessa is considering leaving the Fleet with her family. Do you think she will? If so, do you think it's the right call for her to make?

Is she? I didn’t pick up that she was making concrete plans, but I could have missed it. I can see how the destruction of the other ship might make one reconsider life in the fleet. Other than that, the fleet seems like a good place, but I also get the sense that it won’t be around forever. 

Kip takes a big step forward in his personal growth after the smash incident, by taking to heart the feelings and the dignity of others instead of only thinking of himself. How much of this change in him do you think will stick, and what are your feelings about Ras after their 'conversation' about what to do?

I don’t think Kip is a bad kid at all, just easily swayed by people who make poor decisions. Ras is not a good friend, but it’s going to be up to Kip to realize that.  It must be frustrating for his parents to be able to see that, and also know that they can’t make Kip realize he has a bad friend. It might help that Kip is going to get Ras into major trouble about this, if he comes fully clean about the smash.  Their friendship may not survive. Regardless, I think these two incidents together might be enough to help him learn how to stand firm against peer pressure.

Isabel and Eyas have also been presented with the possibility of significant change, in their respective stories within this story. Isabel has an opportunity to open doors for the Fleet within the larger galactic community, while Eyas finds herself opening up emotionally in ways she perhaps had never done before (with Sunny, and later when she grieves for Sawyer). What further changes do you see all of this bringing for their own community on the Asteria, and for the Fleet in general?

I feel like what Eyas needs is a private life.  Part of her loneliness, and her feeling of incompleteness in her career, is simply that there is a large part of herself that has no place in her life.  If she had people to go home to, who expected “Eyas the person” and not “Eyas the caretaker”, I think that would relieve some of her dissatisfaction. I feel like that’s what she’s doing, in her kind-of-relationship with Sunny.  He is helping her by creating a place in her life where she can be herself. Maybe she’ll find a way to build that outside of a tryst club.

Isabel’s story might involve a much more dramatic change for the fleet.  I think that the interest that Ghuh’loloan’s bringing to the fleet will ultimately be a good thing.  There are issues with the fleet that need to be addressed, and it’s good that the benefactors want to meet with fleet members to find out what and how.  I hope the end result is positive!