Since January, I’ve been reviewing one book a month selected by a poll on Patreon so this month marks the end of one year of these reviews (all of which can be found here). The December theme is religion—fantasy books with descriptions involving divinities, prophets, priestesses, etc., in some way—and the choices were as follows:

The December book is…

Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine
Sign for the Sacred by Storm Constantine

In a world dominated by the austere religion Ixmarity, a charismatic prophet arises – Resenence Jeopardy. Once a vibrancer of the Ixmaritian Church, a sacred dancer, Jeopardy has escaped his bonds of faith and is drawing the sons and daughters of the rich families of Gleberune to his heretical movement. The Church moves against him and his followers with increasing zeal and cruelty.

Lucien Earthlight, also a former vibrancer, is obsessed with Jeopardy and travels the land always just behind the man he is compelled to find. His life is unravelling and melting into the surreal, which intensifies when he meets a mysterious boy in the city of Gallimaufry, whose words are far older than his years.

Delilah Latterkin’s life is shattered when Trajan Sacripent, a follower of Jeopardy afflicted by a terrible curse, slaughters her entire community. Young and innocent as she is, she is bound to Sacripent against her will and together they too travel to seek the prophet.

Cleo Sinister, a poisoner’s wife, finds her life touched by the death of a child – a son of Jeopardy brought to her husband for disposal. A mysterious inner call reaches out to her too, and she is driven to seek out the father of the child. Upon the road she meets a forlorn and broken paladin, Dauntless Javelot, who becomes her reluctant protector.

Meeting many strange and mysterious people along the path, as their worlds grow ever more peculiar, these travellers are fated to converge upon one spot: the city of Gallimaufry where, as the Church militia conspire to murder him, Jeopardy will reveal himself for perhaps the last time. But nothing is as it seems and, as their acceptance of reality is challenged continually, none of the company will survive these bizarre days unscathed or unchanged.

I absolutely LOVE Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books so I am very excited to read this novel!

Biting the Sun
by Tanith Lee
384pp (Mass Market Paperback)
My Rating: 6.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.23/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5
 

Biting the Sun is an omnibus containing both of Tanith Lee’s Four BEE novels, Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, originally published in the 1970s. These two short science fiction books work best as a single volume: the first introduces the world and explores the main protagonist’s struggles with finding meaning within its confines, and the second has more forward momentum and is a more satisfying story.

 

My friend Hergal had killed himself again. This was the fortieth time he had crashed his bird-plane on to the Zeefahr Monument and had to have a new body made. And when I went to visit him at Limbo, I was wandering around for ages before the robot found him for me. He was dark this time, about a foot taller, with very long hair and a mustache, all glittery gold fibers, and these silly wings growing out of his shoulders and ankles.
— pp. 3

Biting the Sun‘s narrator (whose name is never revealed) lives in the dome Four BEE and is Jang, a young-ish person who has completed hypno-school and the child stage of life but is not yet considered ready to be an Older Person. Jang are expected to spend about half a century completely devoted to seeking pleasure and recreation before moving on to the next stage of life, and their most common problem seems to be recognizing their own friends. Mortality is no longer an issue since humans can—and quite frequently do—change bodies, and when someone dies, their consciousness is simply transferred to a new body.

After being Jang for about a quarter of a century, the main protagonist becomes bored with hedonistic pursuits. Don’t Bite the Sun largely focuses on her attempts to find purpose in her life, only to find that her efficiently run society does not allow for much individual creativity or achievement. When Drinking Sapphire Wine begins, he (though the main character identifies as predominantly female and is usually a woman throughout these books, the narrator was male at the time) has become fascinated with reading the History Records and revives an old tradition—and in doing so, commits a crime unheard of for ages. As punishment, his memory will be erased and he will eventually be reintegrated into the community as a whole new person, but he is given a choice about whether to do so immediately or live out the remainder of this life first—as an exile in the desert in one final body that will ultimately age and die (which, he is informed, is not a recommended experience).

Biting the Sun is an odd pair of books. After finishing Don’t Bite the Sun, I felt that, though it was readable, I didn’t really like it: having to constantly refer to the Jang slang glossary at first was distracting, a bored main character makes for a somewhat boring story, the final chapter made me roll my eyes, and it was just overall a very strange book. And yet… It definitely grew on me, even if I still don’t love it. Drinking Sapphire Wine was a better book with more plot progression, and even though it utilized some common tropes and could be predictable, I found this omnibus fresher and more memorable than many of the books I’ve read (or tried to read) lately. My thoughts keeping going back to it, and I’ve found it’s a book I enjoy having read even if I didn’t always enjoy reading it (especially the first of the two books).

The highlight of this story is how immersive it is: readers are thrown right into the world and see it through the narrator’s eyes, getting a clear picture of what it’s like to be Jang, to live in a world with no responsibilities—one in which people can design their own bodies and change them almost like clothes. (Almost, because although people do often switch bodies, there are also some limits to how often they can do so!) Though these two books give a great overview of the main protagonist’s world, they do not delve into how it came to be that way or why certain rules are in place. Personally, I would have liked to have had a better understanding of the ins and outs of this universe Lee created, especially since there was a lot that I didn’t feel entirely made sense, but I also felt that this worked well with the story and character despite my preference. After all, the narrator has no reason to be concerned with the hows and whys of her world as she’s going through her everyday life, and my feeling that the universe was pretty and shiny on the surface but lacking depth was actually quite fitting given that this matched what she experienced.

Though character-focused due to the centrality of the main character and her obstacles, I didn’t feel like she had a wholly fleshed out personality beyond that she had a desire to create that wasn’t being met. Once again, this lack actually was suited to her world and situation since her world didn’t value or need individual creativity, and she is a sympathetic character as one who doesn’t fit in and is searching for a purpose, but I didn’t find her a particularly compelling character.

Biting the Sun does not have particularly original ideas (at least, to me as someone reading it about 40 years after it was published) but its execution makes it both unique and frustrating. Though I want more detail and depth, any shallowness or character or worldbuilding seems fitting since it is primarily about a character who does live a charmed (if dull) life—just as it seems fitting that the second book in the omnibus has more substance. It is, at least, an interesting book to ponder—an unforgettable book, even—even if it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is November’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

Sci Fi Month 2016 Graphic

Since November is Sci-Fi Month hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow, the November book is science fiction!

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

I didn’t get one of these posts up last weekend so this covers the last two weeks, but the last couple of weeks brought some books that sound rather compelling!

I’m working on a review of Octavia Butler’s Kindred that I’m hoping to get up next week, though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to finish it with the baking and cooking I’ll be doing for Thanksgiving (plus I need to start a review of Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee, the November Patreon selection, soon!).

On to the new arrivals!

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Pantomime (Micah Grey #1) by Laura Lam

Laura Lam’s debut novel—winner of the 2014 Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction and a finalist for various other awards including the Cybils and 2014 British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer Award—was just re-released in paperback in the UK last week. It will also be coming to the US in February. The Tor UK website has an excerpt from Pantomime.

The other two books in the series, Shadowplay and Masquerade, are being released with stylistically matching covers. (I really like the new covers!)

There is a UK-only Goodreads giveaway of the new edition of Pantomime ending December 15.

 

In a land of lost wonders, the past is stirring once more . . .

Gene’s life resembles a debutante’s dream. Yet she hides a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female. Then she displays unwanted magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age. Matters escalate further when her parents plan a devastating betrayal, so she flees home, dressed as a boy.

The city beyond contains glowing glass relics from a lost civilization. They call to her, but she wants freedom not mysteries. So, reinvented as ‘Micah Grey’, Gene joins the circus. As an aerialist, she discovers the joy of flight – but the circus has a dark side. She’s also plagued by visions foretelling danger. A storm is howling in from the past, but will she heed its roar?

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

This large collection containing thirteen novellas by acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin was released last month (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Found and the Lost.

 

Every novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, an icon in American literature, collected for the first time—and introduced by the legendary author—in one breathtaking volume.

Ursula K. Le Guin has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but never as a complete retrospective of her longer works as represented in the wonderful The Found and the Lost.

This collection is a literary treasure chest that belongs in every home library.

The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin

The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin by Ursula K. Le Guin

This thick collection of thirty-nine short stories selected by Ursula K. Le Guin—some of which have won awards, including the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards—is available now (hardcover, ebook).

The publisher’s website has an excerpt from The Unreal and the Real.

 

A collection of short stories by the legendary and iconic Ursula K. Le Guin—selected by the author, and combined in one volume for the first time.

The Unreal and the Real is a collection of some of Ursula K. Le Guin’s best short stories. She has won multiple prizes and accolades from the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to the Newbery Honor, the Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, and PEN/Malamud Awards. She has had her work collected over the years, but this is the first short story volume combining a full range of her work.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes will be released on January 31, 2017 (trade paperback, ebook).

 

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Additional Book(s):

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s post covers the last 2 weeks of books in the mail. Here’s what happened since the last time this feature was posted in case you missed any of it:

On to the latest books in the mail!

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson

This collection of stories set in the Cosmere universe will be released on November 22 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). It contains the Hugo Award-winning novella “The Emperor’s Soul,” as well as stories related to Elantris and Mistborn—and a brand new novella set after Words of Radiance. There’s a preface, a little bit about each setting, and a postscript after each story, and the title page for each story related to the novels clearly states whether or not there are spoilers, which books will be spoiled (if any), and whether or not any spoilers are major or minor.

Brandon Sanderson is doing an Arcanum Unbounded tour starting November 22 and will be visiting the following cities:

  • Provo, Utah (November 22)
  • Fort Collins, Colorado (November 29)
  • San Francisco, California (November 30)
  • Seattle, Washington (December 1)
  • Hoboken, New Jersey (December 3)
  • Chicago, Illinois (December 6)

For details on the tour locations and times, visit Tor.com.

 

An all-new 40,000-word Stormlight Archive novella, “Edgedancer,” will be the crown jewel of Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, the first book of short fiction by #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. A must read for fans of the series.

The collection will include nine works in all. The first eight are:

“The Hope of Elantris” (Elantris)
“The Eleventh Metal” (Mistborn)
“The Emperor’s Soul” (Elantris)
“Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30” (Mistborn)
“White Sand” (excerpt; Taldain)
“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” (Threnody)
“Sixth of Dusk” (First of the Sun)
“Mistborn: Secret History” (Mistborn)

These wonderful works, originally published on Tor.com and elsewhere individually, convey the expanse of the Cosmere and tell exciting tales of adventure Sanderson fans have come to expect, including the Hugo Award-winning novella, “The Emperor’s Soul” and an excerpt from the graphic novel “White Sand.”

Arcanum Unbounded will also contain the Stormlight Archive novella “Edgedancer,” which will appear in this book for the first time anywhere.

Finally, this collection includes essays and illustrations for the various planetary systems in which the stories are set.

Additional Books:

This is the fourth year Rinn Reads has hosted Sci-Fi Month, a celebration of all things science fiction that anyone can join at any time throughout the month. Like last year, it is co-hosted by Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow.

This is my fourth year participating, and it’s great fun (although I am a little sad since I’ve reviewed one of Karin Lowachee’s phenomenal Warchild books during each previous Sci-Fi Month and am now out of books in that series to read and review!). I have a review in the works, and this month’s Patreon poll theme is, of course, science fiction in honor of Sci-Fi Month.

The choices were as follows:

The November book is…

Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee
Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee

Published for the first time in a single volume, this duet of novels [Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine] is set in a hedonistic Utopia where no pleasure is off-limits. Ravenous for true adventures of the mind and body, desperate to find some meaning, one restless spirit finally bucks the system and strikes at the very heart of a soulless society.

I’ve been wanting to read more by Tanith Lee, and this one sounds great! Martha Wells discussed it when she recommended some books during a previous Sci-Fi Month, and her post made me want to read it even more!

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows is the first half of a young adult fantasy duology set in the same world as her Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising), although I did not find it at all difficult to follow without having read any of the other books. The second half of this story focusing on a ragtag team of rogues, Crooked Kingdom, was recently released, and I have already purchased it—Six of Crows wasn’t quite as wonderful as I’d hoped, but I did enjoy it and wanted to find out what happened next, especially since some characters were left in precarious situations!

 

Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason. Those were the words whispered on the streets of Ketterdam, in the taverns and coffeehouses, in the dark and bleeding alleys of the pleasure district known as the Barrel. The boy they called Dirtyhands didn’t need a reason any more than he needed permission—to break a leg, sever an alliance, or change a man’s fortunes with the turn of a card.

Of course they were wrong, Inej considered…Every act of violence was deliberate, and every favor came with enough strings attached to stage a puppet show. Kaz always had his reasons. Inej could just never be sure they were good ones.
— pp. 14

Kaz Brekker is known to be dangerous and ruthless even though he’s managed to slip past authorities for the last three years. His penchant for not getting caught brings him to the attention of a wealthy merchant who has a job for someone with this particular skill.

A foreign scientist has developed a drug enhancing the powers of the Grisha to an extraordinary degree, making them capable of feats thought to be inconceivable: turning lead to gold, walking through walls, and even mind control. Fearing his government’s plans for his creation, the inventor contacted the Kerch Merchant Council requesting asylum. His request was granted but he was captured on his way to the meeting place and imprisoned in the Ice Court, a fortress that has always proven impenetrable—and the Council needs someone to break in and get him out.

At first, Kaz declines to be involved in what he considers to be a suicide mission, but the merchant is desperate and willing to pay a price Kaz finds too tempting to refuse. In the end, he agrees to the deal and pulls together a team he believes may be capable of the impossible…

It was with great excitement that I cracked open Six of Crows: a fantasy about a band of scoundrels coming together to attempt to pull off an improbable heist sounded right up my alley. However, I found the first quarter difficult to get through even though there were some fun lines of dialogue and a couple of characters I found intriguing, Kaz and Inej. It wasn’t until the entire crew was assembled and starting on their mission that it started to engage me, and even then, it didn’t wow me even though it was entertaining.

The story is primarily told through the viewpoints of five of the six members of the gang Kaz puts together:

  • Kaz himself, who always seems to be two steps ahead of everyone else
  • Inej, a spy so silent and sneaky she’s earned the nickname “The Wraith”
  • Jesper, a sharpshooter with a gambling problem
  • Nina, a Heartrender (Grisha with power to control the body but an affinity for hurting rather than healing)
  • Matthias, a former Grisha hunter who has a history with Nina
  • Wylan, a runaway with demolitions experience (and the only character without a viewpoint)

From the very beginning, the two I found most appealing were Kaz and Inej. Kaz is exactly the sort of character I tend to really like—the competent, ruthless leader who always has a backup plan—and though I did indeed like him, Inej was my favorite overall. She gathers and guards Kaz’s secrets and is the only person he trusts to any extent at all, and she’s tough, determined, loyal to her team, and no-nonsense. By the end, I was almost as fond of Nina as these two: she’s brash, outspoken, and brave, and the camaraderie between her and Inej was great. These three are also the ones who get the most backstory since Mathias’ is only told in detail when it intersects with Nina’s.

While I found the characters likable, there weren’t any I felt had a lot of depth since even with backstories they seemed like rather stock character types. The relationships between characters can be formulaic as well, especially Nina and Matthias—the two enemies who are attracted to each other. In fact, the whole book seemed a little too carefully choreographed between this and the way the characters hide key information during their own chapters until the time is right. The characters’ backgrounds, though interesting, are revealed through infodumps, and as delightful as the dialogue can be, the characters do tend to sound much the same. The book is very obviously structured and due to this it doesn’t live and breathe with a naturally flowing narrative.

There is more focus on the characters and their devious ways than the fantasy elements. The main speculative aspects are that it’s set in a different world and some of the people, like Nina, have powers. The world didn’t seem particularly fleshed out, although I’ve not read the Grisha Trilogy so it’s possible that more of that was handled in those books. The somewhat generic world didn’t especially bother me since I primarily read for characters anyway, but more extensive worldbuilding could perhaps have taken it to another level since the characters were decent but not extraordinary.

Six of Crows was a solid book once it got going, but I merely liked it instead of loving it. Though there are likable protagonists and some gems in the dialogue, it seemed methodically composed to create a certain effect and it didn’t impress me as much as my favorite books centered on thieves. However, it was strong enough to make me want to read the next book and find out how it all turns out!

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is October’s selection from a poll on Patreon.