I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Zoe Ardelay and her father, once the king???s closest advisor, have been in exile for ten years. After her father dies, the king???s new advisor, Darien Serlast, shows up in Zoe???s village to escort her back to court because she???s been chosen to be the king???s fifth wife. At first Zoe is numb with grief and shock, but by the time they reach the capital city her ???water??? personality asserts itself and she begins to flow around the obstacles in her way ??? obstacles such as Darien himself, a man of ???wood??? who???s strong, stubborn, and immovable.
Filled with vivid characters, beautiful scenery, sweet friendships, surprising destinies, political intrigue, mystery, a slow satisfying romance, and an interesting take on personality types, Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn is a book that just feels good. I listened to the audio version produced by Audible Frontiers and read by Jennifer Van Dyck. It was 14 hours long, but I enjoyed it so much that I finished it over a weekend, which kind of annoyed my family. I even considered trying to extract myself from a couple of social engagements so I could spend time with Zoe instead.
Troubled Waters is definitely a romance ??? and some of the verbal sparring felt a bit contrived, as if set up just to create that tension ??? yet mostly the romance brews in the background as Zoe navigates her way through her changed world. Some readers won???t believe in the romance, and others might feel that things work out too easily for Zoe, but I enjoyed this low-stress novel. It features a strong and likable heroine, a love-interest who???s my kind of guy, a diverse supporting cast, a leisurely pace, and it focuses on a variety of human relationships. It is likely to appeal mostly to women.
Troubled Waters can be read as a satisfying stand-alone story, but there may be more books to come. If so, I???ll definitely be picking them up. Meanwhile, I???ll be trying out some more novels by Sharon Shinn.
I must confess that I had some preconceived notions about Fritz Leiber???s work. Because he???s credited with coining the phrase ???Sword & Sorcery,??? and because I never hear women talking about his stories, I imagined that they appealed mainly to men who like to read stuff that has warrior babes on the covers.
But when I saw this on audio (finally), I decided to give it a try because it's classic fantasy literature.
So, I put Swords and Deviltry on my MP3 player and pressed play. Within two minutes, I was completely enthralled. The first part of the novel (which is really a compilation of short stories) tells the tale of Fafhrd???s liberation from the taboos, close-mindedness, and ???icy morality??? of his mother and clan (and the girl he got pregnant) in the northern wastes. He yearns for civilization, and finally gets a chance to ???escape this stupid snow world and its man-chaining women??? with a beautiful showgirl.
The second section introduces us to Mouse, who is apprenticed to the white magician Glavas Rho, but who feels the pull of the black arts ??? ???the magic which stemmed from death and hate and pain and decay, which dealt in poisons and night-shrieks, which trickled down from the black spaces between the stars...??? A murder and a betrayal force Mouse over the brink and he restyles himself as The Gray Mouser.
I was engrossed in the tales of both of these young men, so when the audiobook reader (the excellent Jonathan Davis) finally said ???Chapter 4: Ill Met in Lankhmar,??? I felt a thrill of delight! Of course I???m familiar with the name of this Nebula (1970) and Hugo (1971) award-winning novella, and I knew I???d be reading it in Swords and Deviltry, but for the first time the name had real significance for me and I couldn???t wait to witness the meeting of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. And it was, as promised, a lot of fun.
Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? Bacigalupi's story read by Jonathan Davis? What could be more promising? (It turns out that had I been familiar with Katherine Kellgren, who read Buckell's story, I would have been even more excited about this one!)
In this shared world, the use of magic causes the growth of bramble, a fast-growing, pervasive, and deadly plant that has taken over cities, making them uninhabitable. Crews of workers must fight back the bramble daily, burning it and collecting its seeds. Magic is forbidden and those who are found using it are executed, yet some citizens are willing to risk their lives if a bit of magic might help them. Who cares if a patch of bramble sprouts in a stranger's garden if a magic spell might heal their only child?
The Alchemist is about a metal and glass worker who has given up all of his riches and is building an instrument which he hopes will destroy the bramble, restore his fortune, and give him the license to use magic to cure his daughter's wasting cough. When he presents his invention to the city government, things start to go wrong.
I liked Bacigalupi's characters ??? the focused scientist who's so task-oriented that he misses important social cues and the strong woman whose support is crucial but mostly goes unnoticed ??? and I enjoyed the laboratory setting because it reminded me of my own frustrating days at "the bench." It was intriguing to explore the idea that small and secret lawbreaking, even for a good cause, can accumulate to destroy a nation or, as one of Bacigalupi's characters says: "If we grant individual mercies, we commit collective suicide." That got me thinking of all sorts of current political, economic, and social parallels.
With The Executioness, Tobias Buckell becomes the hero of middle-aged mothers everywhere.