Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Report: Nebula Ballot

My attempt to Get Stuff Done ran head-on into Monday. I ended up mostly focusing on reading the Nebula ballot material, which still counts as work. Just not the work I planned to do. I've reached the procrastination point where minor tasks look like mountains. I may have to block off an hour in the day and promise myself a reward and just get them done.

Here's a quick rundown of some of the novels I've read recently for award consideration (though with no indication as to how I might vote):

Adult novels
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal -- I hadn't read the first book in the series (for some bizarre reason, my library system has the second but not the first), so I was a little lost about the world building and characters. I think I picked up the important things, but I suspect I still missed a lot of nuance and resonance. This would be recommended for fans of Sorcery and Cecilia because it's fantasy set during the Regency/Napoleonic Wars. Our hero and heroine, who apparently got together in the first book, are taking advantage of peace to honeymoon in Belgium and visit a fellow glamourist to discuss some new theories. The magic in this world is illusion that seems to mostly be used for decorative purposes, but it also has military applications, which puts them all in danger when Napoleon escapes from exile and is marching his armies toward Belgium. The next book, which comes out next month, is set in the Year Without a Summer (which always sounds lovely in the middle of a Texas summer, though it was actually something of a global crisis). I need to find the previous book because I want to fully appreciate this series.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly -- I've seen this described as a "steampunk Jane Eyre," but while the Jane Eyre comparisons are obvious and deliberate, I don't think there's really any steampunk involved. The most fascinating thing about this book to me was the world building. The fey had been providing mankind with magical power sources for centuries, and the whole world is powered that way -- industry, transportation, utilities, etc. But the fey were playing a long game, and when mankind was utterly dependent on their power, they tightened the noose. A war resulted, fitting approximately in the place of World War I. Mankind won, but at great cost. They're having to rebuild society and find new sources of power. There's also the problem of the war wounded -- the people struck by the "shrapnel" of the fey weapons have fragments of curses stuck in them, and the only way to keep these curses from being active is to cover them with iron. Our Heroine has to wear a kind of iron Phantom of the Opera mask. That makes finding work as a governess fairly challenging, until a mysterious man in a remote estate hires her, and Jane Eyre ensues -- spooky house, shady servants, secrets, etc. I actually thought this book would have been stronger without hitting the Jane Eyre thing so hard -- most of the names and characters map, as do many plot points. I was surprised to see in the author's note at the end that she hadn't even read Jane Eyre until people who'd read an early draft of her book pointed out the similarities, and then apparently she decided to make it more overt. I guess maybe she thought that if people were going to assume it was an homage, she might as well lampshade it. I thought that minus the names and some fairly shoehorned plot points, it wouldn't have been that obvious, while I was distracted by trying to map everything to Jane Eyre. Anyway, read if you're into alternate history or fairy lore or if you're a Jane Eyre junkie, but if you're looking for steampunk, you'll be disappointed (I don't think it's trying to be steampunk, but that seems to be how the book is talked about).

Children's/Young Adult
Iron-Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill -- I'd say this is a middle-grade book rather than YA, aimed at pre-teens, but I still thought it worked for adults. Violet isn't at all the kind of princess you hear about in stories -- she's not beautiful, she doesn't have masses of long, glorious hair, and she's not at all delicate. This isn't a problem for her, until something starts whispering to her. There's been a long-forgotten evil god imprisoned, and he's trying to get out by manipulating people and finding ways to make them want to do what he wants them to do, and that requires making them dissatisfied with the way things are. When everything else is going horribly wrong, it may be up to a very imperfect princess to set things straight. This is the kind of book I would have eaten up as a kid, and I enjoyed it even as an adult. It's a fantasy adventure with dragons and war and books and stories.

Black Heart by Holly Black -- I read the first book in this series a couple of years ago when it was on the Nebula ballot, and I apparently missed a volume in between because there were events referenced that I didn't remember. This series is about a teen boy from a criminal family whose magical powers make him valuable and put him at risk. He's trying to do the right thing, but that's hard to figure out when the "good" guys are possibly using him to do wrong and the "bad" guys may actually have the greater good in mind in at least one specific circumstance. This may be one of the few times I've ever found myself liking a "bad boy" type, but probably because he's the kind of guy who only looks bad from the outside but who is wrestling with figuring out how to be truly good when he doesn't have much in the way of guidance or role models.

I still have a few more books to get through this week, and I also want to discuss some of the novellas, novelettes and short stories.

In other news, I did end up posting my rant about the SyFy movie to my Stealth Geek blog. You can find the post here. I may turn that blog into a general TV and other geeky stuff discussion place, so I don't have to worry so much about regional spoilers here.

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