Friday, July 05, 2013

Mini-Review: And Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht

I’m always terrible at picking a best of pretty much anything, but if I had to pick the best book that I read in 2012, it was Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). Therefore, it should be no surprise that its sequel, And Blue Skies from Pain (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), was a very high priority for me to read. I feel that these books are powerful examples of what urban fantasy can and should be – a mix of old and new, history and contemporary, mythic and modern. Her tales of a war between the Catholic Church, Fallen Angels, and Irish Fey set against the backdrop of The Troubles in Northern Ireland is a great balance.
The powerful tragedy of Liam’s life and continued struggles with who he is drives And Blue Skies from Pain. The conflict Liam has with those in his life comes to forefront – his only real friend and partner, a priest who betrayed him the past, his long absent father and his clan of Fey warriors, his dead wife, and those who seek to use or kill him. Leicht’s books are more tragic than anything else – victories feel pyrrhic rather than victorious, and a melancholic hopelessness seems to dominate through Liam. In this Leicht’s writing feels more real and less formulaic as it distinguishes itself from the rest of urban fantasy.
However, I must point out that I am an American reading these, an American who has not ever been to Northern Ireland and only has the vaguest idea of what The Troubles were truly like. So, I think that this criticism/deconstruction of Leicht’s The Fey and The Fallen series (so far) is a valuable perspective. And while it is highly critical of Leicht’s writing, I found that it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the series at all, even though I read And Blue Skies from Pain after I had read that deconstruction.
While I can’t claim that And Blue Skies from Pain had the same impact that Of Blood and Honey did, it is a powerful sequel in its own right. Unfortunately, the exact fate of the series is a bit uncertain with all the happenings around Night Shade Books, but I’m confident that there will be a conclusion, and it will be a conclusion that I very much look forward to reading.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Mini-Review: The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

A few months ago I was very saddened by the announcement that Iain Banks had terminal cancer and was only expected to live a few short months in the best case scenario. At that time I had only read a short story or two of his and not any of his novels, though I had copies of several and have been meaning to for many years. Of course I reacted to the news by finally choosing to read one of his novels. Since that time Iain Banks has passed on and now that I have finally read one of his books I can more fully appreciate the magnitude of his loss to the SFF community.
I wanted to read one of the books from his Culture series, which is less of series and more of a setting in which a lot of stand-alone, space-opera style books are set. And there is a good bit of dissention on which book is best to start with – Consider Phlebas (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), the first one he wrote, The Player of Games (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), or Use of Weapons (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). Each has a good case for it, though in the end I chose to read The Player of Games, as it’s generally recognized as one of his better books and a good introduction to the Culture.
The Culture is a large galactic civilization and a human-machine symbiotic society that is so far advanced is essentially a utopia. Within the Culture there is tradition of gaming and Gurgeh is one of the best there is (yes, that is one of the most unfortunate character names I’ve ever come across). The short of it is that Gurgeh is manipulated by government forces to represent the Culture in the neighboring Empire of Azad where a complex game forms the pillar of its society.
The Player of Games is a relatively straight-forward story of Gurgeh’s trip to Azad, his first contact with their society and his more important journey through a grand tournament of Azad where the winner emerges as the new Emperor.
Parts of the book could be read as a condemnation of authoritarian governments, colonialism, and militarism. And with the gender flexibility of the Culture and the rigid gender distinctions in Azad, additional gender issues are certainly present. And while all of these are interesting, the real enjoyment come through simple story of game play, getting to know Gurgeh and seeing how he changes through this experience, and enjoying the knowledge that he’s being manipulated from afar the whole time.
The ultimate end of the story is expected, and the big surprise will likely not be a surprise to most readers, however as I’ve indicated above, it’s enjoyment of the journey that drives this book. Banks makes it all seem effortless, only to make us miss him even more. So, what’s the best way to honor a SFF writer who died before his time – read his books of course.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Mini-Review: Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint

I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again – I really like the writing of Charles de Lint and I think it’s a shame that he’s not discussed more in the online circles I follow. I find his prose to be an ideal expression of mythical feeling in the modern world as it verges on poetry at times. De Lint’s form of Urban Fantasy is to me the standard that all should be reaching for, and I love how it doesn’t fall into the trap of some ‘badass’ supernatural person violently realizing their dominance over some other supernatural entity (good or evil).
Someplace to be Flying (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is set in de Lint’s made up city of Newford and features the interaction of Native American types of mythos interacting with the modern world. De Lint’s approach is great – the writing at the beginning of the book feels rather mundane and uninspired. Everything changes when the two main protagonists come into contact with something strange and otherworldly that literally transforms everything about their lives. De Lint’s writing shifts at this point to a more magical, mythical and poetic prose that follows the characters’ journey into a deeper part of world around them that they had no idea about.
Someplace to be Flying really is a journey on many fronts, possibly even an epic journey, though it will always fall squarely in the urban/mythic fantasy classification (for good or ill). The two main protags, one a young man from the streets with an atypical nice side and the other a reporter who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, journey into the unknown mythic world around them as they predictably fall in love. There are several parallel journeys – two sisters seeking freedom and reunion, a storyteller looking to his past and future, a trickster god seeking a power to remake the world, and others. Through this all is the powerful theme of family and belonging, though not in a traditional sense.
Someplace to be Flying is set in the early 1990s and it will likely feel dated in some places, though it does have the underpinnings of modern urban life – email and even mention of cell phones. However, most of the book takes place with a timeless, if distinctly modern feel of the old interacting with the new.
Every time I read a de Lint book I think that I need to read more of them. And that is the case again here.

Monday, July 01, 2013


As promised, it's been a while since my last post. Of course a little while ago I did say I was going to stick with shorter, mini-reviews and then I went and posted a 2000+ word review of The Wheel of Time series. Oh well, don't get used to it. I hope to post one or two mini-reviews this week. If I don't get to them now, it'll be quite a while. Starting next week I'll be travelling almost full time for the next month. It'll be exhausting enough that I don't expect to get too much reading done (except perhaps on airplanes) and certainly not any blogging.
Below is a picture of books I've received in the last couple of months. It's a lot and there's even more considering a bunch of ebooks I've gotten. Conspicuously absent is one of the most anticipated books of this year that it seems that every other blogger already has and is reading (or spent all of last weekend reading). No worries - I'll get a copy soon and then I'll read it and promptly not review it for a long time (just like every other book I read these days).
Books Received: May 4 - July 1, 2013


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