Discussion Post: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold



A Civil Campaign is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel Komarr and before the novella Winterfair Gifts and the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In A Civil Campaign we get to see the lead up to Emperor Gregor’s wedding from the points of view of several characters, who all have their own agendas.

You can read Katharine’s review of A Civil Campaign here, and Tsana’s review here.


Katharine: Hi, my name’s Katharine, and I think I love Ivan.


Tsana: Didn’t you already? This doesn’t sound like news…


Katharine: Confirmation, Tsana. Confirmation!


Tsana: Well OK. And Ivan had a particularly amusing storyline in this book. From being deputised by his mother to run endless errands for Gregor’s wedding, to being forcibly recruited to help a new count fight for his countship…


Katharine: and then the whole thing with a past romance reappearing on the horizon. But we’ll talk much more about that later. So basically not much time has passed since the end of Komarr, and all characters we know and love are returning (if they ever left Barrayar) for the big event of the century – the royal wedding. This includes Mark and their parents… and with him, Mark brings some bugs.


Tsana: Those bugs were really the stand-out memory I had from my first read of this book. I still just snicker if anyone says “butterbug”, although mainly it’s me saying it and then sniggering to myself.


Katharine: I was about to ask how often it comes up in random conversation. It totally made me think of a more crunchy (and winged) version of a witchetty grub. Have you tried them? (For any international readers, they are a, well, grub, native to Australia and part of that ‘bush tucker’ thing you may hear Aussies talk of sometimes.)


Tsana: I have not. It’s also a bit different because witchetty grubs are for eating but butterbugs aren’t exactly. But I think we’re approaching spoiler territory. Wouldn’t want to ruin any jokes for people that haven’t read the books.


Katharine: This is true. The other important part of where we find our characters is that Miles has employed Ekaterin to landscape a bit of the Vorkosigan property into a public garden, so that they have an excuse to spend time together during her mourning period, now they’re back on Barrayar and the Komarr investigation is over.


Tsana: Which means we get to see a lot of interactions between them. But, much like we saw at the end of Komarr (since this doesn’t start very much later), Ekaterin has no desire to get married. For his part, Miles only really knows how to run military-type operations, which doesn’t translate quite so well to wooing.


Katharine: Though to be fair, I don’t know many people who are good at wooing. And there aren’t many others in the series either. In fact one of the running themes throughout this book are the love lives of several characters – Gregor and Duv’s success (or at least, getting there) and the dramas, shall we call them, for Ivan, Mark and Miles. Basically everyone should be as chill as Aral.


Tsana: Aral had the good fortune to be vomited on by the right woman at the right time — his first marriage (which we actually learn more about in this book) was much less successful. So I don’t know that we can really count him as a good romantic role model.


Katharine: That’s also very true. Drat, despite the good talk about his first marriage I had already basically forgotten all about it. Should we throw up the spoiler shields now?


Tsana: Shields up!


~~~ Spoilers now! All the spoilers! So many spoilers! ~~~

Continue reading

Review: Tiger Lily by K. Bird Lincoln

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B007Y7094O
ISBN: 1542565855
ISBN 13: 9781542565851
Published: April 2012
Pages: 277
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Those born in this region are said to take on characteristics of the animal that marks the year of their birth. Tiger Lily, as one may guess, was born in the year of the tiger (like myself, in fact.) She is unlucky and low born, however this is all set to change when she comes across the highborn son and saves his life.

The tone of the novel emulates the setting, which helps the reader get into the story. While this usually works well (as it does for the majority of the book), at times it shudders the reading to a halt as you pause over a clumsy sentence. The book is short and yet packs into it a decent tale that isn’t predictable, and does some interesting things with magic. It also does interesting things with gender, which didn’t really do anything for me – it didn’t feel like it was done in a calculated or clever way – more like it was shoved in to shock, or go HA, bet you didn’t see THAT coming! (Edited to add: my interpretation only, I hope others loved this reveal.)

While we’re supposed to like Tiger Lily, she was a little too self-loathing and drudgey, to me, (though perhaps this is just something that’s currently shown in a few too many YA on my personal reading list.) I would have liked to see Tiger Lily have a few more facets to her reactions and choices in the book – she’s due to wonder about things, after all.

This book is labelled as historical fiction, and some parts are interesting. Others are perhaps a little clumsy, as is up to the reader’s interpretation of what they may already know or understand about the culture/location, as if often a tricky line to walk when writing of a culture not your own. Still, most of the book is quite lovely.

Review: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson

Published by: self-published
ISBN: 0998227609
ISBN 13: 9780998227603
Published: December 2016
Pages: 420
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the next book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. Much more in the usual heavy-fantasy realm compared to the majority of the ten finalists, in this we have multiple points of view characters all coming together to shape our knowledge of the world. We start with Keilan – son of a fisherman and a strange woman, a pairing that seems to have left him with some talent certainly helpful for a life by the sea, even if it does dangerously drain him if used to excess.

We have a concubine who at first left me annoyed as ever, this is where we get the usual female characters… only to discover, thankfully, there is more to her than it seems at first.

We have The Crimson Queen, for who the book is titled, who wants those with magic to be able to use it without fear – such a usual trope, but handled well enough.

And quite a handful of others. The writing in this is good and easy to read, however perhaps stretches itself a little thin in parts by trying to follow too many characters at uneven paces. I would have been happy to follow these three alone. The previously mentioned trope along with the old farmer boy is actually the chosen one so har har to all those bullies who roughed him up until now makes parts of this novel easy to expect and follow, and mainly gets its differences from trying to shove so many different things into this, which may have worked better spread out over the series.

Overall though, the writing is solid, the pacing and editing decent, the characters mostly interesting, and was easy to pick up and read and keep reading until the end. This is a very good debut, and compared to the rest of the final ten for SPFBO compares fairly highly. This is grim, steady and has been crafted well, and certainly kept me distracted from my current blitz through of every book Bujold has ever written. Which has to count for something.

Review: Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1521118760
ISBN 13: 9781521118764
Published: February 2017
Pages: 621
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the third book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. I was looking forward to this one, as others had given it decent scores

The book starts by introducing us to Corin, who is the latest in his family to attempt to pass the tower, which will gain him magical powers as his parents were found worthy of, before him. The same tower that swallowed up his brother and never really revealed what it did with him. Corin wants many things – to pass the tower, to be deemed worthy, for all of his years of training to have been worth it… but also to find out what happened to his brother.

What slows down the start though is how he over analyses absolutely everything. It took me a week to get to 5% because any room that he has to pass takes forever, and it didn’t hold my interest. For all his over analysis he then seemed to sometimes make some questionable decisions, which you can understand when in such a life or death situation but then why the heck did I have to read the past dozen paragraphs?

That said, I did like him being overly analytical, as it makes for a bookish protagonist rather than a brave sword-swinging sort. I liked his sister, Sara. I liked that relationships were treated in this fairly dismissively and not a lot was made of them – gay main character and everyone moves on? Excellent.

I didn’t like the father, who felt a little forced and over-dramatic. I feel this book could be highly excellent with a harsh editor and get the book down to a neat 400 or so pages, stripping back the info-dumping, and get it all a little more fluid. What really slows this down is how right at the start he even questions the magic book about his brother, but then stalls soon after and just follows the law and twiddles his thumbs rather than continuing on for his brother – what could have possibly worked better is if he doesn’t find out much at all and it’s simply something that drives him in general… but he doesn’t learn enough to actually know his brother is still somewhere, and where, until he’s able to actually do what he says he wants to, and save his brother.

The last fifth of the book is really quite excellent, and almost makes up for the rest of it. Almost. This book has a shitload of promise, and some very excellent and hilarious lines, but the writing in the first half seriously let it down.

Books Upcoming: Buzz Books 2018: Young Adult Spring/Summer

Buzz Books 2018: Young Adult Spring/Summer

Welcome to Buzz Books 2018: Young Adult Spring/Summer. These substantial pre-publication excerpts reflect a broad spectrum of today’s young adult writing, from fantasy and romance to suspense and humor. You will discover debut writers to put on your radar, while enjoying early samples from some of the biggest authors in the field and even a memoir for younger readers. Readers will be happy to see included Stephanie Garber’s sequel to her New York Times bestselling debut novel Caraval, a previous Buzz Books. Other fantasies are Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Fawkes by Nadine Brandes, and Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young. Then come back to the present with Boston Globe advice columnist Meredith Goldstein’s YA debut about a teen science whiz who tries to crack the chemical equation for lasting love or Buzzfeed writer Farrah Penn’s Twelve Steps to Normal, about a father’s recovery from alcoholism. Start reading the bestsellers of tomorrow right now to see why reviewers rave with comments like these: Love Buzz Books! They are so helpful for librarians. This YA sampler is particularly great for any librarian with a sizeable teen population. Some very interesting titles highlighted here, in a wide variety of genres. Then spread the word: your friends and family can download this free edition of Buzz Books at any major ebookstore or at buzz.publishersmarketplace.com. For broader reading, check out Buzz Books 2018: Spring/Summer, also available now, for 40 excerpts from top forthcoming adult fiction and nonfiction titles.


Fawkes by Nadine Brandes: The son of Guy Fawkes attends a school where you’re trained in colour magic, or something. Stone, or something, is slowly taking over his body yet he hopes he’ll be granted the one colour that may help stop the stone taking over. A bit confusing in part, but otherwise well written, and good to have YA from a male perspective.

The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis: A girl and boy begin to be able to communicate despite the 100 years that separate them. Josie is from 1915, and Alec is in 2015, yet they share the same house, and become friends. Middle Grade, and not entirely wonderful so probably won’t be one I track down, sadly.

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne: Earth has fallen into another ice age, so part of the population have escaped to ships that now orbit earth (and have been doing so for 210 years so far), waiting until they can safely return to ground. The ship Stella is on is mostly farming, and it’s certainly going to fail quite soon… so she’s trying to get off, even if her engineering skills are lacking, and no one really needs a teacher. Still, she applies, and she finally gets a response to her job seeking right after she perhaps ruins things with the one boy she cares about. Will totally get this, as it’s being advertised as ‘Jane Eyre in space’.

Unbreakable by Sara Ella: Skipped as I haven’t read the previous two in this series.

Legendary by Stephanie Garber: Skipped as I’ve read the first in this series, but not quite interested enough to continue.

Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein: Jerk guy breaks up with a girl who’s too smart for him – well, no, that’s not entirely fair. He meets someone else who ‘gets him’ and they can chat easier. Maya is devastated, but has a great set of friends and an understanding father, and is just about to go on an excellent trip, so… could have been worse. From the synopsis: ‘Maya is miserable until she discovers that her scientist mother, before she died, was conducting research on manipulating pheromones to enhance human attraction. If Maya can finish her mother’s work, maybe she can get Whit back.’ – except maybe she shouldn’t want him back? She’s in her first year of college, stuff him. At this point in time in my personal life where I’m also trying to get over someone, I don’t really have the emotional space to read about someone doing unhealthy things.

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen: Sarah is orphaned when her mother is shot at a checkpoint, leaving her daughter to scramble through brambles and a broken gate, and run and hide for her life. This takes up the majority of the snippet we get to see in this sampler, however the synopsis goes on to say (and what we can also figure from the title), that Sarah becomes a spy. She must infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. I’ve requested the full ARC of this one, and wait with crossed fingers!

Furyborn by Claire Legrand: Part of this I really liked. Part seemed well written… and then it jumped into a confusing jumble.

We see a Queen (who we learn had to kill her King), give birth to a child in the witness of a man and his son, who have part angel blood, which grants them powers. The father and son are hiding from someone who’s getting closer to finding them, which is why (once the baby is born) the father throws himself from the tower. The Queen shoves the newborn into the boy’s arms, and tells him to use his magic to travel to a certain somewhere… and from there I didn’t really get what was going on.

Although I’m highly sceptical about angel stories (yet to read a good one yet), that part was actually decent. When it jumps into the future it gets quite a bit different, and despite liking the teacher in it that’s as far as I got. I might pick this one up, and I might not…

Twelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn: So far I’m yet to enjoy anything James Patterson does or steps near to. However… this wasn’t terrible. A girl is returning home now that her father is out of an alcoholics rehabilitation program, and though she prefers her hometown to where she was sent to stay with an aunt, she’s understandably apprehensive about returning to her friends and her now ex-boyfriend who she had to suddenly leave months beforehand. It was a short excerpt, but I’ll be picking this one up later.

Frat Girl by Kiley Roache: Cassie is down to the final two people vying for a scholarship into her dream university – all she has to do is pitch a killer research project. She’s up against a tech-head, a mini-me to the millionaire offering the scholarship, so she knows her chances are slim… so, she pitches something crazy. Delta Tau Chi is on probation with one year to clean up their act before they’re closed for good. Their crimes are misogynistic behaviour, so feminist Cassie reckons her project can be to sort that out one way or another.

I’ll be picking this one up, too. I like Cassie and her tattoo’d best friend (though I’m getting rather tired of every female YA lead having a gay male best friend, too. Make them the main character for once!)

Reclaiming Shilo Snow by Mary Weber: Haven’t read the first in this series, and going off other reviews it seems like there’s little point to try.

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young: Warrior women – hell yeah, I’m so here for this! Eelyn is seventeen, and has worked hard to be a warrior on the front line when her clan take on the Riki. They fight with sword and axe, have partly shorn heads with the rest braided, and fight even when (for instance) their ribs are still healing.

I don’t quite believe such a calm conversation can happen in the middle of a battle, but eh. I’ve already preordered this one, so let’s see where it goes.