Review: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1439133948
ISBN 13: 9781439133941
Published: October 2010
Pages: 345
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

A whole book about Cryo-sleep and revival, which has been here and there in crucial parts of the series to be sure, but now it’s all anyone is talking about. This time the planet setting is what one could pretty well call ‘new-Japan’ (especially as their money is nuyen… new-yen, goodness) and with every character given the suffix -san, -domo, -sama, etc it’s pretty clear. And quite well done, really.

Imperial Auditor Miles is there to investigate something there that isn’t quite right – something that Gregor’s (now not so new) wife has brought to his attention, and taking Miles’ personal experience in the business has picked him as the perfect one to despatch. He’s there to attend a conference, possibly shake some things up and see what falls out, when instead he and Roic are separated early on and it all pretty much goes to hell.

The start is a bit odd – partly because Miles has recently had a poor reaction to a drug attempted by his would-be kidnappers, a poorly organised group who are trying to make a point but just exist to royally stuff things up wherever they go. This leaves Miles out in the street hallucinating, where he is lucky adopted by an almost-teenager who loves adopting pets. Miles is small and hardly any different, and flourishes under his care. And then, Miles being Miles, rabbits on with relentless energy as soon as he’s waited out the allergic reaction through the three hundred plus pages through everything – losing his adoptee to the police, reviving the wrong woman but then the right one, capturing and losing kidnappers, and winning over yet another crowd of people to his relentless charms… or whatever it is that Miles’ possesses that allows him to win over people…

Overall the plot is good and doesn’t always go according to plan (Miles is involved after all), but the bits where it doesn’t go according to plan somehow make things easier or more possible, yet felt utterly realistic. Roic is miles ahead now of his previous uncertain and bumbling self – able to gently (or firmly) direct Miles when he’s trying to plan something and possibly not going about it in the best way possible – though still occasionally losing out.

What’s charming in this book is the young boy who has been hurt by so much in this world and just wants to care for his animals and try not to get hurt again. Whether it’s living in hiding in an abandoned building with a slew of people who also don’t want to be found, or refusing to allow himself to think that Miles may be an old lonely eccentric who just might adopt him (and his little sister who also tags along eventually), or then – well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but a certain worker in the consulate was good, and that all seemed very well handled, too.

The way this one ends is of no surprise (I’ve been dreading it happening the last few books…) and it’s handled superbly well. I appreciate the names mentioned where they are… and how they all react to it. Ivan’s last line – and how it includes Miles, is probably my favourite in how it captures the changes ahead. The part where Miles is about to go off script (literally) as he does but then looks at his children, and decides not to possibly for the first time in his life is just… it makes you bite your bottom lip just thinking about it.

Review: Lady Mary by Lucy Worsley

Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1408869446
ISBN 13: 9781408869444
Published: April 2018
Pages: 384
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Lady Mary follows the life of Mary Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VIII, starting from her engagement and the downfall of her mother (and hence, the introduction of Anne Boleyn). As a young adult book it simplifies things a little, and perhaps some sections would even be suitable for advanced middle grade readers if there is interest there, but overall it is an engaging piece.

At Princess Mary’s engagement to the french Duke, it is noted that there’s the possibility that her parents aren’t in a blessed marriage… using the evidence that as they haven’t had a son (as in, a ‘real heir’), then clearly God doesn’t think they should be together. Soon after this her father aquits his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marries Anne Boleyn instead. From here, everything gets far worse for Mary than she could have ever imagined – she is removed from Court, forced to be a servant to her new sister Elizabeth, imprisoned… yikes.

One of the strengths is getting to see them as a family unit at the beginning. Mary is about 11 or so, and her father pulls funny faces and ruffles her hair to make her smile. You really get a sense of place with the descriptions of the places they live, the reasons they have to keep moving around (basically they eat the food the small village has to offer and then they move on so they can continue to live their lavish lifestyle), and just how many servants they consider necessary.

Overall, I enjoyed this, however not as much as Worsley’s previous historical fiction books. In previous books where her main character may have seemed childish or whingy it could easily be put down to the character really being thought of, or accounted to be, exactly like that in history. In this, though… Mary seemed a little unaccountable.

Parts of this are a little slow, but it is quite a task when sharing the life of someone who is waiting in exile for a significant part of the book. I think for that it does really quite well.

Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Published by: Macmillan
ISBN: 1509899022
ISBN 13: 9781509899029
Published: July 2018
Pages: 448
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Uprooted (not the same series, but same author, same feel)

Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, and they’re hated in their small town… even though her father has loaned money to nearly everyone when they were in need, and even though he rarely even tries to collect, they sneer and treat them poorly whenever they’re given the chance. When Miryem’s mother falls ill and is close to death, Miryem takes it upon herself to go to each and every house that owes them to seek a few coins and set everyone up on payment plans. What her father cannot do, she can. And though it worries her parents to see her so cold, she saves their house. If the townspeople are going to hate them anyway, it may as well be with everyone’s money where it should rightfully be.

Miryem does so well that she can hire the help of another girl in the village, Wanda, who suffers an abusive father and is glad to be out of his house. They move up and up in the world, able to do repairs to their little home, and then hire Wanda’s younger brother to look after their new goats to disguise the fact they’re taking them in to be able to feed them properly and escape the wrath of the father.

Soon Miryem is visiting her grandfather who is the best moneylender within reasonable travelling distance and Wanda is able to do simple collecting errands in her absence. Unfortunately the townspeople aren’t the only ones who take notice at Miryem’s ability to turn silver into gold, and she wins the attention of the Staryk, who are the magical race in this book. They bring the winter, they alone travel on the magical silver road (anyone else who wanders onto it are lost), and they seek gold more than anything. The Staryk King turns up to Miryem, stopping time and those around her and able to make them quickly forget any strange brush from their memories within moments, hands her a bag of silver and says he will be back to collect the gold or her life.

Through being canny and understanding those around her, Miryem takes it to Isaac, the jewellery maker who melts the silver down and turns it into an enticing ring, then they take this to the local Duke who buys it immediately for a princely sum.

The problem with this is that the Staryk king rewards one successful deal with another, and then another, and he says for completing all of his tasks he will make her his Queen. Miryem and Isaac make next a necklace, and finally, a crown, and the Duke buys them all. they have a peculiar effect on the mortals around them who become bewitched by the Staryk silver, and the Duke uses all three to make his daughter, Irina, engaging enough for the tsar to want her hand in marriage.

All of these women become POV characters, along with Irini’s nurse, Magreta, and later, a few male characters such as the terrible tsar who was bargained long ago to take in the spirit of a demon who controls him once the sun goes down.

So many paragraphs already and so little of the plot shared… it’s marvelous, truly wonderful. Inspired by the Polish fairytales of her childhood, Novik takes a collection of characters and makes you care deeply about each and every one of them. Somehow, also the tsar. And the Staryk King. And his subjects. And the animals in the winter.

This is another book that I’ll need to buy in the fanciest edition possible just to wrap in plastic and gaze at lovingly for the simple fact it’ll give me joy. And buy multiple copies of to throw at people. It really is just that good.

Review: The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Published by: Simon Schuster Australia
ISBN: 1925596346
ISBN 13: 9781925596342
Published: April 2018
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

It’s 1941, Estonia. A terrible time for the people born to the land who are now brutally controlled by Stalin’s soldiers. The rules that govern how they must live are mounting, and the last straw is when Katarina’s family have yet another increase imposed upon them and their small farm. The sheep Katarina must care for is her one joy – not for their company, but for the yarn they produce, with which she knits as her grandmother taught her. Her stitches are careful and the patterns have a long legacy of being passed down through the generations, and now there won’t even be any meagre bits of yarn left over for her precious shawls, and the last link to her beloved grandmother who’s now dead.

Things aren’t any better for Lydia, in Moscow. She finally escapes her uncle’s rule and goes on the run, hoping to find her father and her ties to Estonia, however it’s not exactly a pleasant place to run to. And what anyone ever knows about their family history isn’t always true.

As someone who didn’t learn history in school (something I’ll always be annoyed about), I learn now through historical fiction and I’ll forever be grateful to those who research to these lengths. In this case the author travelled to Estonia and spoke extensively to the people there, and it shows in her writing. The way the time and the place is captured, along with the raw feeling of what they’ve had to experienced is engaging and heartfelt.

Additionally, I connected with this book through the strong thread of knitting, which is important to Katarina, and important to me as one of my most loved hobbies. I don’t think my knitting will ever rival Katarina’s (and power to her for preferring lace – takes so much longer to create with as it creates such tiny stitches), but I loved how vital it was to her ability to cope with the horrors they were experiencing.

This isn’t a joyful book to read – how can such a terrible time be easy – but it is a valuable book to read. It’s especially good to see that this has come from an Australian author. I highly recommend this book for its writing style, and how it captures each and every character so well. With dignity, understanding, and courage.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Published by: Macmillan
ISBN: 1447298306
ISBN 13: 9781447298304
Published: May 2015
Pages: 438
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Spinning Silver (not the same series, but same author, same feel)

It’s been almost three years since I read this, so forgive me but I’ll be using the default description rather than my own recount:

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

This was one of my favourite books of the year back in 2015, mostly for Agnieszka who is utterly intelligent and fierce, and manages such utterly magical things. This whole take is wholly feminist, and the magic and the way it works is endlessly fascinating.

The Woods in this book are just as ferocious as we think dragons to be.

No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves. Sometimes they came out blind and screaming, sometimes they came out twisted and so misshapen they couldn’t be recognized; and worst of all sometimes they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.

The wizard is so excellent. Agnieszka is so excellent. The tropes we have come to expect – especially from what Disney have done to them – are all turned on their heads and set to us upside-down. And now, trying to review this book three years too late… I think I need a re-read.