Review: Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B06XTD7C9N
ISBN: 1517008301
ISBN 13: 9781517008307
Published: September 2015
Pages: 460
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the first book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten.

As the title shows, this book has a noir-style element to it, in the way that it’s told and the mood it sets. It worked in that it assisted with the world building and made it stand out from the crowd and gives it a bit more of an urban fantasy feel whilst keeping it grittier than most.

What we have here is a dwarf and his rat-police friend (also as we can see from the cover), who are far more relatable than most protagonists we get as they’re stuck in dead-end jobs, doing and fixing things that no one else wants to get involved in, and not getting much thanks for it either most of the time.

I really liked the worldbuilding in this one, which is good as that is primarily what drives the storyline. While the characters are engaging and fun they don’t entirely drive the story – and they are the primary cause for concern at the ending which I will admit was a little disappointing.

What let this one down for me, other than the fact it’s in dire needs of an editor (so many typos!), is that while I get it was trying to be zany and hilarious it didn’t quite balance it well throughout the book. Pratchett is zany, and yet the world makes sense and so forth – in this, it kind of felt like a NaNo novel where you literally just write anything to keep the pace going and hit those 1,667 words a day so you can give yourself a tick. And hell, it keeps you reading if nothing else – parts were highly entertaining… but does a fun book mean it should win? *shrug*

This one certainly has a lot of potential for the future, that, I can say for it.

Review: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671578855
ISBN 13: 9780671578855
Published: 1999
Pages: 544
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We meet Miles again soon after we left him after Komarr, where he first met Ekatarin. They’re back in Barrayar and the countdown is on for Gregor’s marriage to Laisa which means everyone is coming in for the big event. Mark returns after some time with his grandmother on the free-thinking Beta Colony along with Kareen and neither of them are overly happy to be back on the judgey Barrayar. Their parents Aral and Cordelia are on their way back, and their night of return is about as ill-timed as possible.

But before all that, Miles is helping Ekatarin and Nikki settle in. He offers her a slice of the Vorkosigan grounds to create a public garden for everyone to enjoy and Nikki has free reign of the household and the nearby kids (mostly that of the staff) to play with. This, of course, doesn’t mean that he has a monopoly on her interests. Despite her mourning attire and the fact she tries her best to brush off any attempts at holding her interest, several other men arrive on her doorstep to try to charm her away. Barrayar has had far too many years of seeking only men for their progeny and now of course, the field for appropriate wives as at an all time low.

Meanwhile, Mark and Kareen along with the bizarre Enrique have brought a business venture to Barrayar that involves some kind of bug that it nutritious and not appalling to eat… it just looks gross. Personally I pictured an crunchier version of a witchetty grub (found in central Australia, which, incidentally tastes like a kind of nutty chicken if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me, I confess it’s probably been 15+ years since I’ve had any) anyway, with this venture, Ekaterin again, comes in handy.

Basically, anything and everything that is thrown at her only shows time and time again just how suited she is to the role of Lady Vorkosigan in ways Elli never wanted to. Other than the way she quite rightly storms off when it turns out that Miles asked her to create the garden so they could have an excuse to stay close together first, rather than firstly appreciating her abilities.

We see Miles’ parents elegantly handle the troubles that plague both their sons, Gregor continue to be surprisingly elegant, level headed, caring and intelligent, and a reveal of the lovely Ivan that had me clapping.

Overall, highly enjoyable. Even if at one point I had to put the book down thanks to such a high feeling of fremdschämen I really thought there was no possible way I could read on.

Discussion Post: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Komarr is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Memory and before A Civil Campaign. It introduces a new recurring character and gives us a closer look at the planet Komarr than we’ve had so far.

 

You can read Tsana’s review of Komarr here and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: So this novel shows us the start of the next phase of Miles’s life, which changed dramatically in the previous book, Memory, when he was forced to leave the Dendarii. Now he’s solving mysteries/problems and having adventures… which isn’t too far from what was happening before, just with fewer soldiers. What did you think?

 

Katharine: I liked how he was basically shadowing one of the other Imperial Auditors, yet they still worked in unison and bowed to each others strengths. More jobs in life need to be like that.

 

Tsana: I think it helped that Vorthys knows for certain how competent Miles is, whereas most people Miles encounters don’t because they haven’t read his classified files. Also, the whole reason they’re both Auditors is because they’re competent, which is sometimes a tall order in real life… ;-p

 

Katharine: Very true, but I can dream of my version of utopia :p So yes, Miles is on one of his first investigations as an imperial auditor, and it’s taken them to Komarr, where a spaceship has happened to crash into the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet. Imperial Auditor Vorthys is the other chap with him, and his niece happens to live on Komarr, so it’s there they go to stay for what they first assume will be a few nights and nothing else.

 

Tsana: However, Auditor Vorthys’s niece is, Ekatarin, our other point of view character in this book. So we know from the start that she’s going to be important for the story — roughly half the book is told from her point of view, in alternating chapters with Miles’s point of view. And, minor spoiler, Ekatarin is set up to be another recurring character. As a result, her personal journey from the start of the book to the end is much more significant than Miles’s. Miles just gets the hang of this new Auditor gig, while Ekatarin goes through some big life changes.

 

Katharine: It’s good seeing how people view Miles every so often. We’ve seen him go through some pretty significant changes and so you think he doesn’t look as ‘mutie’ as he would have previously, but this book reminds us yet again just how the majority of people view him.

Ekatarin is from Barrayar, and old Vor. She married young to Etienne “Tien” Vorsoisson, who has a genetic disorder that he’s frightened of being publicly known – even though Vorzohn’s Dystrophy is treatable – which just shows how judgemental Barrayans are about any condition. Ekatarin is worried for their son, Nikolai, and wants to start his treatment immediately… however Tien forbids it until they can treat it in absolute secrecy… which of course is far more expensive. This provides the majority of the tension between their once-happy marriage.

 

Tsana: When we got more of the backstory, it sounded like Ekatarin’s marriage to Etienne Vorsoisson started off well only because she was young (twenty to his thirty), idealistic and a bit naïve. As soon as things started to get a little challenging in their marriage, Etienne became emotionally abusive, mostly to Ekatarin, but also to his son. In the eight or nine years since (they’ve been married ten years at this point), Etienne’s moodswings, angry outbursts and a string of jobs in various locations, all quit prematurely, has eaten away at Ekatarin’s happiness and sense of self. It was really painful to read most of the married couple’s interactions.

 

Katharine: Especially as we see Ekatarin light up when eased into security around her uncle when they go out for lunch together, and then again as Miles becomes determined to make her laugh. We see hints of what she used to be passionate about – she has a deep interest in botany, but the constant moving made keeping her own garden pretty pointless after a while of barely a year in the same place. She has one plant that’s over seventy years old – that Tien throws from a great height at a certain point in the story when the options are either her, the plant, or himself.

 

Tsana: Maybe we are getting into spoiler territory now. (plant spoilers!)

 

~~~ spoiler shields up! ~~~

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Series: Winternight Trilogy #1
Published by: Ebury Digital
ISBN: 1101885939
ISBN 13: 9781101885932
ASIN: B01ESFW7F8
Published: January 2017
Pages: 336
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

This is such a beautiful book, and I feel so damn lucky that I just didn’t get around to reading it when it first came out, as now I immediately have the second book at hand to continue on with.

Vasya is daughter to a fairly wealthy man. Winters are hard, but he is lord of a small area, commanding a few villages/towns and the lands that surround them. He loses his wife in childbirth of Vasya, but has a handful of children already from previous births, so it is they and Dunya, the nurse/kitchen woman, to raise her. That is, until, the king asks he marry another and he takes a God-fearing woman home with him from the courts. She is seemingly insane and harsh, but she gives Vasya’s father another daughter at least.

The novel is told in a time of second sight, where there are beings who must be respected and bestowed of gifts in order to keep the peace, otherwise crops will wither and the cold will take loved ones in the night. They sleep upon ovens that stay lit through the night for warmth, eat of hard black bread and soft cheese, and pray for endurance. Vasya’s step-mother hates the old ways they live to so far from the big city, and with her presence the little creatures that once did the sewing and mending, or tended to the bathhouse, or looked after the horses, feel they are being chased away.

Then a new priest arrives in their home, and the old ways are spurned all the more. Duyva removes the fey stitches from her apron, and soon it is left to Vasya alone to share her crusts and spill her blood in order to keep her family safe. Despite the stepmother’s fearful demands and beatings, Vasya remains wild and at one with the woods and the whispers, and with these connections her gifts grow as much as they can – as they will need to, if her family is to survive the next winter.

The author says in the back of the book that she took certain liberties with some translations. I know little of Russian folklore so for me this worked beautifully – the many names a single person may be referred to as, what they eat and drink and do, their way of life… I love books where they are more or less controlled by their land (such as many Australian books are, by our need for water and the long stretches of desert) and in this is was, of course, the ice and snow and cold.

I loved the countless creatures and how they each hold their own domain, and none are particularly evil or good; they just are. The same of the stepmother and the priest; they are certainly the antagonists but they were truly acting in what they believed was right for their souls and for the souls around them. Just as Vasya’s father, who has to care for so many people under his lordship.

The book is quite short in a way, yet we see Vasya from birth to womanhood and we see such a packed world in such simple scenes. A whole lot of nothing happens for a while and yet it never feels like nothing is happening; it’s just a beautiful collection of words. This is a very enjoyable piece of work.