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.
I understand that there are to be 7 books in this series, but as of this writing there are only 5. I listened to them all, one right after the other, so it is difficult for me to review them separately. Besides, I think anyone new to the series should know what they're getting into right up front. However, there are no spoilers here.
I'm going to use the word "read" instead of "listen" because it's all the same to me and "read" is shorter.
My sons, both of them "men grown," have been nagging me for at least two years to read these books. Recently, they both accosted me about it from different parts of the country on my birthday, so I grudgingly agreed to try the first book. I have now read them all, as I said. My sons have been disinherited several times during the reading process. They had better hope that the last two books come out before I die.
I have read a number of reviews comparing Martin to Tolkien. This might be true if Tolkien had been a warped, sadistic bastard who enjoyed tormenting his readers. During the course of reading these books, I have called Martin everything but a good guy. Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Spawn of Satan top the list, along with accompanying adjectives. But I read all the books and am biting my nails waiting for the next one. True to his nature, however, Martin is making no promises about when that will be. Judging from the spacing of these first 5 books, I may have no fingers left by the time book 6 hits the presses. (This would help me relate better to some of his characters, I guess.)
So, for those of you who have not yet begun this series: If you are very squeamish, you'd better not start. There is a lot of torture, violence, explicit sex, and explicit violent sex. Even worse, there's some really bad language.
It is set in a world that seems to be based on Medieval England, but is not England nor any other place on this earth. The number of characters and story lines that are converging on each other seems daunting at first glance, but I was surprised at how easily I could keep the major ones straight in my head.
There are some characters that you will love and others that you will love to hate, and still others that you will hate to love. Some of them you will hate and then come to love or pity, and the other way around, too. Some of them, mostly Tyrion Lannister, are very witty and humorous no matter what the situation, so that provides a little relief sometimes. Some of them you will forget about entirely, as a whole book might go by before they pop up again.
If you like to feel safe and secure when reading a book, this series is not for you. Nothing is sacred, no one is safe. Bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. If I had been reading a paper book, I would have a lot of holes in my walls from repeatedly throwing the books against them. However, reading them has given me plenty of practice climbing the walls. (Unfortunately, as a woman, I would still not be able to become a Black Brother.) No one is happy in any of the seven kingdoms. The only joy comes from vengeance or, more rarely, justice. I hate books like that! But I read all the books and am biting my nails waiting for the next one.
I have given the series 5 stars because I could not stop reading once I had started, no matter how angry it made me. I would never have read these books if my sons had not hounded me into it. But wait--no--I have no sons. That was that other woman who lived before she embarked on the torturous journey that is Game of Thrones.