Review: The Waking Land by Callie Bates

Published by: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9781473638730
Published: July 2017
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

I actively hunted this book down when I saw that Robin Hobb herself had given it five stars, and said she thinks ‘Bates is an author well worth watching,’

From the first few pages I knew I’d be ditching absolutely everything to finish it as soon as possible. We meet a five year old girl who’s caught in political uproar as the King himself comes to her home, shoots her nanny and takes her hostage so her father will stop trying to apparently take over the kingdom. Elanna has no clue at all of what her father may be doing – she loves her parents, she has a new doll, and she’s had a lovely evening until the gunfire started…

We then skip forward fourteen years, and meet Elanna again when she’s nineteen and still under the control of the king – but it’s not such a bad life at all. She’s able to study and they have intelligent conversations together – much more than he has with his actual daughter. She’s bullied from many angles regarding her heritage – apparently her people are heathens, dirty, and unintelligent – but in general she’s thankful for the quality of life she’s been given, and she believes everything she’s been told growing up. She has some close friends and opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible back in her uncultured land.

This all changes when her only protector, the King, is found dead. As one may have gathered, his actual daughter, now Queen, isn’t a fan of Elanna and quickly tries to frame her for the death of the King, which means Elanna has to flee for her life (though that makes her look guilty), and you’ll just have to pick this up and read for yourself to find out what happens next. The above is possibly the first 2-3 chapters – there’s so much more to this than the only life Elanna has ever known.

The pacing through the novel is possibly the only tricky thing – though there isn’t anything wrong with it from a reading perspective, it doesn’t always follow what one would expect which can throw you a bit – but if anything, it makes them seem even more desperate for their cause, and more realistic when everything doesn’t go to plan. The action is what drives this novel as they all run out of time again and again.

Another factor of the novel is what you would have to call a love triangle, however it’s the most convincing one I’ve seen. Elanna isn’t torn between her affections for the two men in question – she’s caught up between someone she feels closer and more similar to (and someone who sees her for who she is as a person), and what she should do for their people, the future of their land and people, and someone who is quite fond of otherwise – it’s also an arranged marriage from when she was five, and what everyone around them expects to happen… And Elanna isn’t flighty or distraught about this – like all her other decisions in the book she approaches this one with mature thought and deliberation.

The landscape, world building, and magic system in this book were all wonderful and delicate and I am desperate to see more set in this world so I can learn more about this and see where the characters take themselves. So far it looks like a standalone novel, and the plot certainly ties everything up neatly… but goodness, I’d love more.

Overall this was a beyond fantastic book, and I eagerly await to see what Bates comes out with next.

Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

Series: Nemesis #1
Published by: Diversion Publishing
ISBN: 1682300684
ISBN 13: 9781682300688
Published: January 2017
Pages: 276
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Sovereign (Nemesis #2)

This is a hard yet beautiful read. In a world where superheroes (and villains) are normal, we have Danny Tozer, who has been trying to keep it from her family and peers that she’s transgender – born male, identifies as female – with an abusive father and a mother who looks the other way. Danny happens to get caught up in a metahuman fight one day, and Dreadnought – one of the best of the best, dies beside her – and in doing so, transfers his powers to Danny.

It’s said that during the mutation your body will submit to how you’ve always wanted it to be – if you ever wanted to be a little taller, or stronger… or female. Danny becomes Danielle, which, while is everything she’s always wanted, soon turns out to be pretty agonising each way she turns. Danny’s father books countless medical visits to try to have it reversed – her mother doesn’t support it and goes as far as to call Danny selfish – the majority of people at school are weird about it… especially Danny’s best mate, David, who is every butthurt ‘I’ve been friendzoned’ man-whinger out there. Even the League aren’t perfect – superpowers they may have, but several of them don’t know what to make of Danny at all, with one character actively responding in quite a nasty and vile way.

I would think this book could be fairly triggering. Daniels really doesn’t pull the punches when it comes to the verbal and mental abuse Danny goes through from practically all angles. Sadly, it seems pretty realistic.

As far as the metahuman elements go, this book is quite clever (take that, Batman) and I hope we get to see more of other superheroes in the second book, which I’m hugely looking forward to.

(As a note, my apologies if I’ve used any incorrect or insulting terms above – please point them out to me, as I’m still (always) learning.)

Review: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN: 0671720147
ISBN 13: 9780671720148
Published: 1990
Pages: 346
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The Vor Game won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1991, and although parts seemed a little slow in the cacophony of travel that takes up the middle, the ending is what really dazzles the reader with how it all comes together and all becomes worth the ride. Not that the middle was ever boring – it was just exhausting for one to even consider having to go through. Poor Miles and his lack of sleep certainly made me feel entitled to extra naps here and there in the novel.

But I’ll backtrack. We last left Miles having finally earned himself a place in military academy and we find him now going out on his first deployment. It’s to a harsh place of constant-winter, where he is to be working in weather prediction… though this quickly gets out of hand when he nearly dies in a hazing ritual and, Miles being Miles, shakes up the order of the place substantially within days, earning himself a few more enemies in the process.

He’s then whisked back to his father’s side, and sent on a more secretive mission under ImpSec whilst under the appearance of being kept somewhere safe and out of the way as punishment… so of course Miles manages to throw aside all orders for the greater good, reunites himself with the Dendarii and Elena (and Baz), and then manages to save the one thing Barrayar hold most sacred. All in all, Miles certainly deserves a holiday after this one. By the end of the book, you can hardly believe the beginning is as it is – surely that awful time in the snow is another novel entirely?

We get to see Elena has become entirely her own in the time Miles has spent away from the Dendarii, and a few people note how she is by far more experienced and capable than those who’ve had limitless training and opportunities thrown at them. Chapter fifteen had me wriggling in my seat with glee, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an ending more in a long time in any book this year.

Once again, I can’t wait to see what happens to Miles and everyone else next. Especially Gregor.

Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575094990
ISBN 13: 9780575094994
Published: 1975
Pages: 207
Format reviewed: Paperback
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Books like this stress me out a little. There’s so much build up, and there’s the expectation that I’ll get so much out of reading it – and that to appreciate it fully I need to be rested, ready and put in the effort to allow that to happen. Otherwise I’m doing the book a disservice. So then I put it off, and off, thinking I’ll feel smarter some other day and ready to tackle it.

Winner of the Nebula Award and James Tiptree Jr. Award for Retrospective (1995) – so important to Tiptree – her criticism – her essays on pornography and sexuality – she’s an intimidating writer to approach. What’s refreshing is to read this book, be a little taken back by some parts and do some research, and see how Russ came to realise her own errors in part. It’s a book from the seventies, and this is evident from her treatment of transexuals (and apologies if I use any incorrect or outdated terms in this review, please let me know and I’ll learn and update.)

This book is pretty awful. It’s short and powerful, and shows how terrible things were for females. It’s then something to check against today and see how little has changed, or how recent events have shown us to go backwards almost in response to our general advances, as if the privileged are scared or feeling threatened.

I would have loved to read and study this book in university with a decent lecturer. And I’m sure it’s been done, but guided (and intelligent) discussion on a con panel would be amazing.

Review: Ex Libris edited by Paula Guran

Byline: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore
Published by: Diamond Book Distributors
ISBN: 1607014890
ISBN 13: 9781607014898
Published: May 2017
Pages: 384
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

This anthology is made up of reprints, taking from other anthologies or magazines such as Uncanny and Subterranean, so some you may have come across before. Of these, I’ve already read the shorts by Elizabeth Bear, Kelly Link, Scott Lynch, and Tansy Rayner Roberts – but as these are my favourite authors I eagerly reached for the rest. After all, what better subject than libraries.

Unfortunately I struggled with this anthology. Usually I love to review each story individually, but I didn’t find myself able to have enough to discuss about each one. Please find following what I loved about a few of them. This is a steady anthology, one that has a beautiful cover and a few very excellent pieces in it, but unfortunately is not an easy collection to read through continuously (either in a week, or a few weeks).

In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages

In a fitting start to the anthology we see a quaint proper library replaced with a new one that boasts proper fluorescent lighting and ergonomic chairs, and it’s written with the kind of tone we can appreciate – a library isn’t just a place with stacks of books, libraries that were our friends growing up are places of comfort – not sharp lines and electronics. Not all the books make it over, and for some reason the seven librarians remain in the old building also – and it’s here they receive a late return. As we all know, late books require a fee to be paid, and this payment is quite odd indeed.

This is quite a lovely short – a little bit magical and a little bit of old comfort you instantly wish you were one of the librarians in their quiet comfort, or the lucky little bundle of payment. Reading this one was an excellent start to the anthology, and is so lovely in such a gentle way that it beautifully sets the tone.

The Books by Kage Baker

I love the premise of this – just like how I loved it in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – how in a not so distant future a rabble group of people travel the world to entertain and remind others of things so they can’t be forgotten and lost to the ravages of time in a post-apocalyptic world.

This one is an excellent piece to broaden the anthology out. We start with a safe library we’ve always found comfort in as children with Klages’ story first, and then Baker takes us out into the big unknown, and shows how stories are our constant, and the one thing we can’t do without – up there with food, water and shelter.

In Libres by Elizabeth Bear

Euclavia has been instructed by her advisor that her thesis really needs another source. He recommends a full rare book, rather than a particular article, and this means she has to go to the library. To the Special Collections section in particular. And for this, she wants her oldest friend, Bucephalus, (a centaur) to come with her, as libraries are a cause for concern.

They arrive, and the librarian they meet both recommends against it, and asks whether she’s done anything to earn the ire of her advisor – slept with the tutor’s spouse, etc. ‘Any reason for him to want you dead?’ is literally asked.

This creates such a fantastic piece of work where librarians carry both sword and wand, and people like poor Eu who need to enter are instructed to bring a ball of twine, three days of food, a bedroll, no fire, no shoes on antique rugs, no pens (but pencil and notepaper are allowed)… though as a plus, there are first air and water stations wherever there are restrooms which is say, every five kilometers… however they all move around, so who knows, really.

Brilliant through each part, and Bear, I want a full novel of this, please.

Summer Reading by Ken Liu

‘After mankind had scattered to the stars like dandelion seeds, Earth was maintained as a museum overseen by robot curators.’

We have CN-344315 as our protagonist. He last saw a human over five thousand years ago, but he still goes about his routine – just like our favourite Wall-e, and like him, he cares so much about what humans have left behind.

This short story is endlessly quotable, like a lot of what Liu writes. ‘Data only lives when it is constantly copied.’ ‘Books are long alive when they’re read.’ ‘For books are seeds, and they grow in minds.’

Beautiful.

The Inheritance of Barnabas Wilcox by Sarah Monette

As one can guess from the title, Barnabas Wilcox has passed away, and his inheritance involves a country house to his nephew. One of the stipulations being that his library catalogue of an astounding number of books be finished – only his nephew doesn’t know where to begin, so he writes to a boy he knew in school – one he was never close with, but he’s the only one he knows who to turn to. And as Booth is in awe of the now deceased antiquary Lucius Wilcox, he agrees.

Like a good horror or murder mystery, the pieces slowly fall into place. The insane ramblings of the uncle. The abundance of a certain type of tree in the garden, and the horrid scratchings on the library door. I haven’t yet read any of Monette’s work but now I really, really want to.

What Books Survive by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Like some of the oldest and best fiction, space invaders have come. Now nothing electronic works, but as long as they stay behind their walls, the invaders seem to leave them pretty much alone. The only issue is that some houses have no or very few physical books, and along with half the houses (which means everyone has to squish in together), the shops, and the school (so now the town hall acts as the school also)… they left the library on the other side of the barricade. Something that 16yo Katie Marsden can’t stand.

This is such a fun and wonderful piece – kids with gumption, and it tackles the hard questions. Such as ‘Should I pick books [to save] because of posterity and shit like that, or should I just be selfish and save the ones I wanted to read?’ Personally I reckon save the ones you want to read – life is too short if invaders have come.

Now Tansy is a fan of the kindle, as am I, but this certainly is a strong reason to be a fan of both mediums for sure.

The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar

This is such a clever piece that the least said about it, the better. Even if you pick up this book and flick to Amal’s section first – totally worth it.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch

An old favourite. Fifth year exams for the High University of Hazar require the aspirants to enter the library and return with a library book.

Simple, right?

Well, the motto of the librarians here is: RETRIEVE. RETURN. SURVIVE.

Dressed in armour, equipped with swords and years of training, four of them are there to take the test. As one of the thankfully longer pieces in this anthology, we get such a fun romp of a tale where you see so much of their whole world even though we mostly see their sprawling library alone. Another piece that demands a full novel or ten. The language and dialogue makes anything by Lynch such a joy to read. The descriptions, witty banter – in many awful moods I’ve picked up something by Lynch and felt better within minutes – if only it could be bottled.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Xia Jia, translated by Ken Liu

After college, a young girl returns to where she grew up to work in the library her father ran – as it’s always felt like home, and other people don’t make much sense anyway. She’s had a feeling that she’s always been looking for something, and she finally finds it in a slim volume of poetry, that’s part of a collection donated by a family clearing out their father’s estate.

This is a beautiful piece of work. ‘It was still there, a slim volume squeezed between other books like a mysterious woman hiding in the attic.’ Basically one can be assured that if Liu has translated it, then it’s always going to be worth reading.