Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Book Report: Airplane Reading

I think I'm almost recovered from the trip. Even the blisters are fading. But this is why when I need a vacation for resting and rejuvenation, it almost has to be a "staycation" because I utterly exhaust myself if I actually travel. The only way for me to travel and come back refreshed would be to go to an utterly boring place where activities mostly involve just enjoying being there. I think I could come back rested and relaxed after spending time in a cabin by a lake in the woods, where I might do a little hiking or take a canoe trip, but otherwise spent most of the time lying in a hammock with a good book. Otherwise, I'll wear myself out exploring. That's why my planned vacation this fall will be an at-home vacation.

One good thing about travel by plane is that it gives me time to read, and for this trip I brought two books I've owned for a while but that I was saving for this trip.

Those of you who've been around a while may remember that earlier this year (back in March or so), I talked in vague terms about a book I'd heard about that sounded perfect for me and used it as proof that the marketing efforts of the publishing industry don't work, since I only learned about the book when I was on that publisher's web site and saw something about the sequel, which made me track back to the first book. It sounded exactly like the kind of book I've been looking for, and I'm someone who actively seeks out information about books. I read dozens of publishing and book review blogs and spend a lot of time in bookstores, and yet I'd never seen anything about this book. If someone who actively seeks out information on new books hasn't heard of a book that's exactly the kind of book she wants to read, then how can they hope for books to find their audience?

Now that I've read the book in question, I can talk about it. The book is The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills (aka Karen Miller). I found this book when I was reading the publisher's blog, looking for posts by an editor I was going to meet, and saw information about upcoming releases, which included a book called Witches Incorporated. I tend to notice anything that involves something to do with magic combined with the "incorporated" concept (for reasons that should be obvious), so I zoomed in on it, learned it was a sequel and backtracked to learn about the first book. It took me a while to find that first book in a store, in part because I don't go to bookstores that often these days and in part because when I did go (on my last trip to New York), this book was never there. But I did finally find it and read it on the plane on this trip, and yes, it was pretty much just the kind of thing I like. The book is about Gerald Dunwoody, a junior-grade wizard relegated to bureaucratic work. When things go horribly wrong during what should have been a routine inspection and he loses yet another job, he jumps at the opportunity to be the court wizard in a far-off colony. Of course, any job he could get with his track record has to have some drawbacks, and in this case, it's because that kingdom hasn't been able to keep a court wizard for very long ever since the new young king took the throne, and there's a good reason for that. Gerald soon realizes he's in way over his head, and he discovers that the horrible accident that cost him his job wasn't a fluke -- it's not so much that he's a terrible wizard, but rather that he's more a different kind of wizard, and that puts him in grave danger.

This is what you could call an "otherworld" fantasy, in that it's set in some alternate world that isn't directly related to our world. But what's different is that it's a more or less contemporary otherworld, where most of them tend to be rather medieval. This is a magical world with cars, electricity and telephones, so it fits into what I would have considered urban fantasy before I saw what the publishing world was calling urban fantasy. I really enjoyed this book, and it was the kind of thing I've been looking to read. I liked the good-guy characters -- Gerald, his genius best friend, the very practical princess, the butterfly-obsessed prince and the smart-mouthed bird. There's lots of subtle humor, though I wouldn't classify it as a comedy, but then there's also some pretty intense action. Some of the reviews I found considered this a drawback -- that it seems like a light book, but takes a dark turn. It does get pretty dark and intense in places, but I don't think anyone who's watched Joss Whedon's TV shows or the current version of Doctor Who would be shocked by the shift in tone. In fact, it does feel like a Doctor Who episode, with fun characters, a bit of silliness, and then horrible things happening (and considering that the acknowledgments page includes thanks to Russell T. Davies, I don't think I'm off-base in seeing the connection. It also mentions David Tennant, so I found myself picturing the main character as played by David Tennant, which is not a bad thing at all). I will be getting the sequel the next time I find it in a bookstore (the Newark Airport Borders didn't have it), and I may take a look at the author's other work, which is more traditional epic fantasy. Based on her blog, which I've started following, I get the feeling we may have been separated at birth. At least, she seems to watch all the same TV shows I do.

I switched gears a bit for my return trip airplane reading, with Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan. I met Marie at Conestoga last year, where we had a long conversation about the conditions that inspire writers. She's a solar-powered creature, while I'm water-powered. Then I saw her book on a table at an airport bookstore when I was on the way to WorldCon. I made a mental note to buy it when I got home because it looked like something I'd enjoy, and then WorldCon happened, and I couldn't for the life of me remember that book I saw in the store and really wanted. I've heard booksellers say that when customers come in looking for a book, but they don't know the author or title, all they can ever remember was that the cover was blue -- and it always seems to be a blue book that people are looking for. Well, this was a blue book, and that was all I could remember. Gradually I was able to play mental association games to recall that the author was someone I'd met, and then Marie posted something to the Fangs, Fur, Fey community and I suddenly remembered.

The book is yet another variation on what might be called urban fantasy, but the "urban" is London during the reign of Elizabeth I. It turns out that Elizabeth survived her half-sister's paranoia and came to the throne with a little help from the faerie realm, and her ascension came along with the ascension of a new faerie queen. Now a disgraced member of the faerie Onyx Court has one more chance to restore herself to favor: she has to find out what one of Elizabeth's closest advisors knows, and to do that she disguises herself as a human and attaches herself to a young courtier. But then they discover that there's something more sinister going on, and all her loyalties are put to the test.

That's always been a time period I found interesting, and it made for a great setting for a fairy story. I liked the characters and found the plot gripping enough that, exhausted as I was, I couldn't sleep on the plane on the way home because I didn't want to stop reading, and I stayed up late that night, even though I practically had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, because I wanted to finish it. This is also a first book in a series, and I'll definitely be looking for the next one.

And now I have to tackle the massive to-do list, as well as get groceries, since my cupboards are pretty bare after back-to-back trips and I don't think I can face another frozen pizza. We'll see if I can manage to put shoes on.

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