The Great Book Sort (Part 2)

July 27, 2022 at 10:57 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Since one of my three followers is in hospital and needs more book recs, here’s…. some more book recs!

Favourites

“Clean Sweep” (and “Sweet in Peace”, “One Fell Sweep”, “Sweep of the Blade”, “Sweep with Me” and I haven’t read “Sweep of the Heart” yet) by Ilona Andrews (aka the Innkeeper series). Now here’s the interesting part: they’re not all THAT well written. They read like many many many mid-level paranormal romance authors (and, to be fair, a million billion times better than MANY error-riddled published books, especially self-published books). The plot is only more important than the inevitable love triangle (good), and the writing is fine and fundamentally flawless but not astonishing. I’ve read other books by the author and they went to the “Nah” pile—perfectly good books, which I might re-read if I run out of favourites. So why is this series a favourite? The heroine is an Innkeeper, with considerable powers… but she’s fundamentally an inter-species diplomat, and most of the books’ tensions come from two or more very different magical species coming into contact in or near her inn. So it’s all about making different cultures feel safe and comfortable and respected… and I LOVE THAT TO BITS.

Side note: The “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik is absolutely brilliant but I can only re-read the first of the series (it’s all excellently written) because there are so many cases of cultural clashes where people are just awful at understanding each other. It’s too painful to ‘watch’ a second time.

“The City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders is scifi that takes place on a planet where only a narrow band between the permanent day and permanent night is mild enough for human habitation. According to wikipedia it’s climate fiction, but I don’t see it that way. It is, amazingly (since I’m doing these reviews in alphabetical order by author, which is effectively random), another cross-cultural story.

“The Bear and the Nightingale”, “The Girl in the Tower”, and “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden (aka the Winternight Trilogy). If you want to know what I mean by “astonishing” writing—as opposed to Ilana Andrew’s “fundamentally flawless” writing—this is it. This is really, really it. The trilogy takes place in Northern Rus’/Russia. You will feel the deadly cold as you read. You will feel the corrosive hatred and unmet hope in the heart of the beautiful priest. You will feel the wild heart of our heroine, and the weight of an entire society that falls, always, on the shoulders of women. CONTENT WARNING: Women are constantly at risk of rape, and are also subject to arranged marriages against their will, which definitely includes spousal rape (the men are also married without always getting a choice over their partner, but they are clearly in a position of muuuuch more power than any woman). I am not against arranged marriage on the whole. There are several examples of happy arranged marriages in the book (and in real life). But there is at least one arranged marriage in this series that is incredibly awful, and a better man would have made different choices (yes, even in that historical setting—although there is room for interpretation on that score). The sexual violence is never explicitly described, and it is never used to break the spirit of a female character or to justify someone’s evil with a rape backstory. There are much more creative ways to break a person. . .

This series is magical, and it is unbelievably harsh, and it is exhilarating and tragic and more.

You, too, will weep for a nightingale.

Since I’ve already talked about the brilliant Naomi Novik AND I’ve talked about magical stories set in medieval Russia, I can’t stop there.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. This is so good you guys. So so good. It is just as good as the Winternight Trilogy, and when I describe them they sound similar, thanks to the rich and bone-chilling selling of a magical medieval Russia. They even both have a female heroine who attracts the interest of an immortal man (for better or worse—but usually much much worse). But although rape is still threatened in this book, it is only a very slight possibility that is quickly and relatively easily fended off. In this story, the heroine is Jewish. So there is a whole other complicated and historical layer. And almost everyone in the story becomes a better person, which I love. That reminds me: another thing this book has in common with the Winternight trilogy is a protagonist who is incredibly honorable. Even when someone treats them incredibly badly, they do what is right. Even when they absolutely deserve a break they refuse to leave people to their fate. I love that.

“Uprooted” also by Naomi Novik. Completely different world. You’ve got a medieval-ish valley with a nasty wizard who takes a girl from the village every ten years. It’s always someone a bit extraordinary, so the heroine has grown up knowing that her best friend (who is beautiful, and kind, and clever) will be the girl taken. Except the wizard takes her instead. Content warning: there is an attempted rape (that ends rather badly for the attacker, which amuses me more the more times I read it). Again, it’s brilliantly written, including delving into the complicated feelings of the characters. How would you feel if your mother had long since accepted that you would be taken against your will as a teenager? How would you feel if, after all that, you weren’t chosen after all? And how would you feel if you were the friend of that girl that everyone knew was so, so special (unlike you)? And how would you feel, knowing your best friend would be taken and not being able to do anything to stop it? And how would you feel when you were taken instead?

And that’s only the start. I don’t want to say too much, but this book is amazing.

“A Deadly Education” (and “The Final Graduate” which ends on a major cliffhanger, and “The Golden Enclaves” once it comes out later this year) by Naomi Novik. All of the above brilliance, but absolutely hilarious too. This is a “magical school” story, but the survival rate of this particular educational institution is incredibly low. Our heroine is prophesied to become an evil sorceress. People dislike her instinctively, and she is severely hampered in her magical school by the fact that the school is basically pushing her to destroy the world and everyone in it (because it will automatically feed you the magic you’re best at—which in her case is all the most destructive killer spells). Worse, she just had her life saved by everyone’s favourite hero RIGHT when she had a conveniently impressive monster to kill. It is so funny, and strangely sweet, and exciting, and surprising. Naomi Novik was an impressive author when she wrote “Temeraire”, but she just keeps getting better and I hope she lives forever so I can keep reading her books.

“Sing the Four Quarters” by Tanya Huff. The heroine is a princess who gave up the throne to follow the call of her magical gifts. Then she did the one thing that an abdicated princess must never, never do: she got pregnant. What is worse, the man she slept with is currently in a dungeon accused of treason. He’s mostly a pretty face to her (she has a healthy and open long-term relationship with another woman, which is beautifully realised) but he’s no traitor.

Nah (aka good books that I might re-read someday, but just not really my thing)

“Fifth Quarter”, “No Quarter” and “The Quartered Sea” by Tanya Huff. Interestingly, the first book in the series is “Sing the Four Quarters” and I love it, and it’s right above this entry in my favourites pile. But in Book 2 we get a pair of new characters: siblings, and an incestuous love that continues to play a part in the rest of the series. They’re still really good books, but I strongly dislike both of the sibling characters and don’t want to spend time with them.

“Over the Woodward Wall” by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan Macguire, who will show up on the “Favourites” pile soon enough). This is well written (Macguire is a master writer) and pretty good, but aimed at a younger audience. I just found the two child protagonists mildly annoying.

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. The midnight library is a place where you can go between life and death, and play out alternate possibilities. Sort of cool, but I want sentient books and mysteriously well-read monsters in my library setting, not a story about regret and life choices.

Nope

“The Dragon Lady” by Angelique S. Anderson. Magical steampunk, including dragons. Too many adjectives.

“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard. I don’t remember much about the book (apparently a bestseller), but there’s a lot of clumsy exposition in the first two pages.

“The Tangled Lands” by Paolo Bacigalupi (who had a book in the “Nah” section of Part 1) and Tobias S. Buckell. Really well written but too dark for me.

2 Comments

  1. Neil@kallaroo said,

    Wow, l feel a real weight on my shoulders now! I agree about “Spinning Silver”. I love it. My book club was less impressed, but I don’t think anyone hated it. And I didn’t think much of “The Midnight Garden”. I felt it ended too soon – we were shown all sorts of possibilities, but we didn’t really see the development of the choices that were made. In other words, the book was just getting interested, and it stopped. I shall have to look at some of your other selections – I suspect we have similar tastes.

    • Felicity Banks said,

      I won’t do any reviews unless I feel like it 🙂 I promise.

      Yes it sounds like we do have similar taste. That’s lucky.

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