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.
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.
Gene Wolfe???s The Sword of the Lictor essentially contains no plot, but it???s the best plotless book I???ve ever read. It???s one of the best books I???ve ever read, period. I loved every moment of it! This third installment of The Book of the New Sun continues Severian???s journey from apprentice in the torturers??? guild to Autarch. He doesn???t seem to be getting any closer to his exalted position (if anything, I???d say farther) and we???re no closer to understanding how he???s going to get there. But that???s totally fine. Unburdened by a need to be anywhere or to achieve any goals or deadlines, Severian wanders the earth almost aimlessly, and it???s this wandering that???s so fascinating. For a reader who???s only anxious for action and story progression, The Sword of the Lictor is not likely to work and, indeed, I usually get annoyed with authors who take too long to tell their stories. However, when I???m reading Gene Wolfe, it not only works ??? it is pure delight. For Wolfe???s old earth, set in a far future when the sun is dying (similar to Jack Vance???s Dying Earth), is full of wonder and amazement and he tells us all about it in his simple but elegant style... I wish I could be there with Severian as he climbs down the steep cliff overhung with a waterfall and embedded with the fossils of earth???s lost architecture, and explores the round metal building that we recognize (but he doesn???t) as a spaceship??? I???d love to tell you more and to discuss what it all means (there???s so much symbolism here), but then you???d miss the jaw-dropping, eye-widening, brain-expanding experience for yourself. I???ll just say that what Severian experiences on his journey perfectly captures the essence of excellent speculative fiction ??? it???s the reason I love SFF.
Nobody creates such a sense of wonder and amazement, such truly unique and bizarre ideas, and relates them in such a beautiful way as Gene Wolfe does. I want to spend a lot more time exploring his world.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
There was a time when the fantasy genre didn't just exist to entertain, but sometimes aspired to a higher level of artfulness. The Shadow of the Torturer is such a book. Set in a far distant future, when Earth's sun is fading and human society has lost much of its technological aptitude, Wolfe's novel has a haunting, elegiac quality. It's written in a voice reminiscent of 19th century writers like Poe or Dickens, which adds to the melancholy beauty. Fortunately for the squeamish, though torture is part of the story, it's not described in much detail.
In terms of plot, The Shadow of the Torturer isn't a complex novel. The protagonist grows up under the protection of a strange, cloistered society, learns a few things about the outside world, betrays his guardians, and is thrown out to seek his own fortune -- familiar fantasy stuff. But what sets the book apart from standard swords-and-sorcery fare is the richness of its language and the great imagination in its details; the difference is like comparing a fine oil painting to a crude computer graphic rendering. It has subtlety that forces the reader to pay attention. Wolfe messes with time and space, contemplates philosophical ideas, writes long exchanges whose import isn't immediately clear, and relies on the audience to make sense of the strange, slightly dreamlike events that unfold in the story, rather than spelling out how they're connected.
Without a doubt, this is a book that will absorb some readers and alienate others. Wolfe's ornate, college-level English, though not difficult, is not for everyone. Nor will everyone relate to the protagonist's detached, clinical voice. Basically, if you're looking for a light, Harry Potter-style book with instantly charismatic characters, you're better off going elsewhere. But, for readers who appreciate sophisticated writing and atmospheric, textured imaginary worlds, this is a great read.