Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Justice by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Tor, 2007
Series: Book 5 of Kushiel’s Legacy

Warning, this book is the 5th in a series, so beware of spoilers for earlier books.

The Book:

“After the events of Kushiel’s Scion, Imriel de la Courcel has decided to accept his familial duty and marry a near stranger, Dorelei of Alba. For all her charms and virtues, Imriel soon finds that he does not feel the same spark with her that has recently ignited between him and Sidonie, heir to the throne of Terre d’Ange. The most sacred precept of blessed Elua is to love as thou wilt, but would anyone accept a traitor’s son romancing the d’Angeline heir?

Imriel follows his new bride to a foreign land, though his heart remains tied to Terre d’Ange.  Ancient forces in Alba, frightened for the future of their land and their people, see Imriel’s predicament and choose to use it as a weapon.  In addition to navigating politics and love, Imriel must now cope with interference from this new and dangerous source.” ~Allie

This is the fifth book I’ve read by Jacqueline Carey, and I also read this one as a part of a read-along. You can read our spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.  We’re going to finish off Imriel’s trilogy with another read-along soon, planned for October.

My Thoughts:

I have described the books of Kushiel’s Legacy up to this point as epic fantasy with some romance.  This would be the first in the series that I would describe as a romance in an epic fantasy setting.  Rather than revolving around major events in Terre d’Ange and elsewhere, Kushiel’s Justice revolves around Imriel’s romantic relationships and how they affect the people and societies around him. I’m not a particularly big fan of romance, and there were a few things in this romance that grated a little. Imriel’s idea of romantic love is very heavily focused on physical appearance and sexual attraction, though I hope that will mellow out a little as he grows older in the final book of the trilogy.  The story also contains several love triangles, and I disliked how the main one was resolved by external forces. However, I am still very engaged with Imriel’s life story and seeing how things progress in his world.

While the story is focused on Imriel’s romantic entanglements, it also involves a lot more than the state of Imriel’s heart.  His marriage to the Alban princess is symbolic of the opening of a previously isolated island nation to influence from other cultures.  While some in Alba are open to new ideas, others feel like outside influences will destroy them and their culture.  The conflict that Imriel’s marriage (and other lover) causes with this second group of people is a major driving force of the plot, and brings with it considerations of prejudice, vengeance, and a very just idea of redemption. I think that the conclusion of the story is going to have a major impact on the politics of Alba and Terre d’Ange, as we move into the final novel.

Kushiel’s Justice also serves up many of the treats I have come to expect from the series.  It was a pleasure to see how the many characters I’ve come to know in previous books have been faring.  I was especially happy that the older cast--Phedre, Joscelin, and the people of their generation--still play a role.  The novel also introduced the reader to new lands and cultures.  Alba (fantasy UK) has been on the periphery of the story for a while, but this is the first novel to really delve into their society.  Unexpectedly, we also get to journey to Vralia (fantasy Russia), and catch up with the continuing story of the Yeshuite people. I’m pretty sad that there’s only one novel left that is set in Phedre’s lifetime, but I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the final book.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Kushiel’s Justice is the second book in Imriel’s trilogy in the wider series of the epic fantasy series Kushiel’s Legacy. While this novel serves up many of the things I enjoy in these novels, such as explorations of new lands and catching up with favorite characters, it also has a much stronger focus on romance than previous books in the series.  The events that take place in this period of Imriel’s life have wide-reaching political and cultural effects, but they are primarily instigated by Imriel’s love triangles.  This was not my favorite of the series (that would probably still be Kushiel’s Dart), but I’m looking forward to reading the final third of Imriel’s story!  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Short Fiction: May/June 2016

It’s time for another post about recently-published short fiction! I’ve been falling a bit behind on my short fiction reading, due to the challenges of moving. I’m now finally starting to settle in and catch up on things that have slipped in the past month.  Today’s post is going to include short fiction published in May and June.

First, here are a few of my favorite pieces from that long-ago month of May:

We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You? By Rebecca Ann Jordan (Short Story): This was a funny and sad story about cultural divides and building bridges between them.  The main character was an amoeba-like alien named Filo/Gee, the last of it’s kind, and its endearingly open and cheerful personality provided a lot of the humor of the story.  I enjoyed the relationship between Filo/Gee and its human roommate, Nina, and watching them try to understand one another more deeply.   

The Pigeon Summer by Brit Mandelo (Short Story):  This one was a ghost story, but not a horror story.  Instead, as in The White Piano, the ghosts serve a story that is fundamentally about coping with grief.  In this case, the supernatural elements are very understated and ambiguous. J. has closed hirself off from the world after the suicide of hir best friend.  In hir apartment, si feels connected only to the ghost that may be haunting the room and to the small nest of baby pigeons that is growing outside the window.

The Jaws that Bite, the Claws that Catch by Seanan McGuire (Short Story): As I’m sure one can guess from the title, this one is a riff on Lewis Carroll, specifically Jabberwocky. The worldbuilding is a neat take on a classic work, and the story has an unusual heroine.  It was a pleasure to read.

Now, here are a couple of favorites published during June:

Lost: Mind by Will McIntosh (Novelette, Asimov’s July 2016*): A story of mind uploading and the pain of losing oneself, this story features a man who has his wife’s mind scanned before she succumbs to Alzheimer’s.  Unfortunately, the pieces of her are stolen and scattered when he attempts to smuggle her into the US, and so he must find a way to put her back together again.  It’s an emotional story that also imagines an interesting near future of illegal mind scans.

Filtered by Leah Cypess (Short Story, Asimov’s July 2016): A terrible thing has happened far away, but filtering algorithms are preventing readers from knowing about it.  A journalist must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice in his attempt to make suffering voices heard.  Filtered is clearly a reflection of the current state of reality, so don’t expect any happy endings.  Of all the stories I read from June, this one hit the closest to home.

*In case you're wondering, Asimov's publishes their month-named issues during the previous month.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Vurt by Jeff Noon

Vurt by Jeff Noon
Published: Ringpull, 1993
Series: Book 1 of Vurt
Awards Nominated: Locus First Novel Award
Awards Won: Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Book:

“In a future UK, everyone hungers for the ultimate drug: Vurt feathers. They can comfort you, titillate you, terrify you, or take you places that no conscious mind should go. As the Vurt expert Game Cat says, “Be careful, be very careful,”--Vurt sometimes comes with a terrible cost.

Scribble, a member of a small Vurt-focused gang called the Stash Riders, knows this all too well. He has lost his beloved sister Desdemona to a deadly yellow feather.  He woke up from the Vurt experience to find her gone and only a “Thing from Outer Space” at his side. He is determined to get her back, no matter what the price.” ~Allie

This is the first book I’ve read by Jeff Noon, and I listened to it as an audiobook during my commute.  The audiobook narrator, Dean Williamson, was fantastic.   He had a great ability to portray the different accents and speaking patterns of all the different characters. On one last note, Noon has a few new books coming out soon from Angry Robot Books.

My Thoughts:

Vurt takes place in an unusual near-future world, which it drops you into with the expectation that you’ll figure everything out as you go along.  I’m generally fine with novels that are light on initial explanation, but this one left me uncertain as to what kind of a novel I was picking up.  I wasn’t really in the mood for a drug addict story (e.g. A Scanner Darkly) or a gangster story, so I very nearly put the book down.  Despite the set-up, though, the basic surface plot of Vurt is a simple save-the-damsel quest story. Beneath this, there is also a level where the story is about the experience of trauma and the unfulfillable desire to escape. There are plenty of missteps and disasters in Scribble and the Stash Riders’ journey, and I appreciated how often they met with failure.  The intended rescue was a nearly impossible goal in their universe, so the story would have felt cheap if they’d been able to easily find their way forward.  

It takes a while to get a good sense of the structure and details of Noon’s world, but I enjoyed the process of learning.  The novel feels cyberpunk-ish, but with more of a fantastical flair than I’d expect in the subgenre.  Most of the technology has very little explanation, such that it might as well be magic.  Disregarding how exactly they work, I could see how Vurt feathers would be so addictive (especially the comforting variety).  I’m not really sure I understand why exactly anyone would want to do a yellow feather, though, since most of them seem mortally dangerous and not fun at all.  There is a bit of weird background sexuality to the story as well, both from Scribble’s love for his absent sister and the presence of other sentient modes of being (robo, vurt, dog, and shadow).  As long as this doesn’t bother the reader, the world is very vibrant and creative, and it still retains some mystery in the end.

The language is another aspect that I enjoyed about the novel.  I’m curious to read another of Noon’s books, to see if the style works as well written as it does while listening.  The audiobook narrator gave an poetic shape to Scribble’s rambling narration, with its frequent repetition and emphasis, giving it a naturalness that made it feel like the story was meant to be performed.  The unusual style also made me feel closer and more sympathetic to Scribble, who had already endured so much before the novel even started.  I enjoyed seeing through his perspective, especially since he grew so much throughout the story. He moved from a passive young man trying desperately to avoid his own pain, to someone who could face the ugliness of the world and take action.  His journey was difficult, but I appreciated how it ended.  

My Rating: 4 /5
I was not sure what to expect from Vurt from the beginning, but it was a very engaging and creative novel.  It was also particularly fun as an audiobook, so I would recommend that format.  The story concerns Scribble’s efforts to rescue his sister from the alternate reality of a yellow Vurt feather, as well as his own desires to escape pain through various means (such as drugs).  The world and the fictional drugs were really interesting, and Scribble’s journey was emotional and compelling. I can see why this debut novel received award attention, and I expect I will read more of Noon’s work in the future.