Normally I get more gift cards than actual books for the holidays, but this year I got a lot of books. Since this post would be a mile long if I used my usual format of a picture of a book with a little bit about it/why I wanted to read it, I’m going to just write a list with pictures of some of them. (Now that the holidays are over, hopefully I’ll get back to writing some of those reviews I was working on too – I’ve read six books that I’ve not yet written about.)

Here’s the complete list (other than the book I got early that I already mentioned – the signed copy of The Snow Queen):

  • Fables: Legends in Exile (Volume 1) by Bill Willingham
  • Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks (Signed!!)
  • The Steam Magnate by Dana Copithorne
  • Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  • Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear (Signed!)
  • Crashcourse by Wilhelmina Baird
  • Requiem by Graham Joyce
  • Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott
  • The Annunciate by Severna Park
  • Requiem for the Devil by Jeri Smith-Ready
  • The Book of Jhereg by Steven Brust
  • Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
  • Riddle-master by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Moonstruck by Susan Grant
  • Miles, Mutants and Microbes by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Looks like I’ve got a lot of reading to do! What did everyone get to read for the holidays?

Thea and Ana of The Book Smugglers were kind enough to invite me to write a Smugglivus post again this year. So today I am over there talking about my top 10 books read this year and what books I’m looking forward to in 2010.

Wicked Gentlemen
by Ginn Hale
222pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.24/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.11/5

Wicked Gentlemen, Ginn Hale’s first novel, contains two connected novellas following the same characters, although they are each told from the viewpoint of a different protagonist. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror category in 2007 and it won the Spectrum Award for Best Novel of 2008. According to the publisher’s website, Hale is working on a sequel, which I am now eagerly awaiting because I loved this book.

The first story is told from the first person perspective of Belimai Sykes, a Prodigal (a descendant of demons). The setting is an alternative Victorian city in which the devils left hell and repented of their sins in exchange for salvation. Three hundred years later, their ancestors are still easily marked by their long black fingernails and yellow eyes, and in spite of their submission to the Inquisition, they are still feared and repressed by humans. After being tortured by the Inquisition, Belimai lives a rather solitary life ruled by his addiction to the drug ophorium.

One night, Belimai answers a knock at his door to find Captain Harper of the Inquistion and his brother-in-law, Dr. Edward Talbott. Somehow Captain Harper came across Belimai’s old business cards and would like for him to investigate the disappearance of his sister Joan. Joan was involved with a group called Good Commons, which sought after more rights for women and Prodigals, and Harper suspects that her sudden vanishing is related to letters she had received from a Prodigal member of Good Commons. Since she is a lady of good breeding, Harper would like to keep her affiliation with Prodigals secret, which is why he enlists the help of Belimai instead of aid from the Inquisition. Intrigued, Belimai agrees to try to find out what happened to the woman. Harper has Joan’s friend from Good Commons held for questioning and believes that would be a good place to start the investigation, particularly since he may be more comfortable revealing information to another Prodigal. However, when Harper and Belimai arrive at the cell, they find the man killed in a most violent manner.

The second story takes place after this one and is told from the third person perspective of Harper, who encounters a murdered woman at the beginning of the novella. It answers some of the questions raised in the first half of the book, so I’m not going to talk about it too much. There is an epilogue at the end that returns to the perspective of Belimai (who is also present in Harper’s story – even with separate sections, the book is overall connected).

Wicked Gentlemen is one of those books that falls into the category of my type of book. It’s dark, character-driven and set in a fascinating fantasy world that sets a great backdrop for the story without overwhelming the focus on the protagonists and plot. As the story unfolds, more about the universe is revealed as well as more about the character’s histories and what motivates them. This was one of those books that I did not rush through, eager to find out what happened and then move on to the next book. Rather, I took my time reading it and often went back to reread parts of it.

In many ways, this novel reminded me somewhat of one of my favorite series, The Doctrine of Labyrinth by Sarah Monette. Due to the much shorter page count, Wicked Gentlemen is not nearly as in-depth nor is it quite as mature or well-written as Monette’s series, although it does get to the heart of the plot much faster and the minor characters have more personality. However, it does have that same atmosphere of a dangerous city and the dynamic relationship between two men who are very similar yet different. Both Belimai and Harper are rather private people, but while Belimai tends to hide his true feelings under snarky comments and sarcasm, Harper is more serious and a little more likely to open up to the right person. Even so, Harper does have some of his own personal demons that he has always lied about, including his true attitude toward Prodigals. There is some romance, but that’s not the main center of attention in this story although there is more time spent on the relationship in the second half of the book than the first.

In the first story, I enjoyed Belimai’s perspective so much that I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the second part when it switched perspectives. Harper seemed so normal and level-headed in comparison to the tormented Belimai, who had to live with being an outcast part-demon and his past encounter with the Inquisition that led to his drug addiction. With all his problems, Belimai was a fascinating personality to read about, plus he was unusual since he was not human and had some powers. I did not need to fear – although it took longer to get to it, it did become apparent that Harper had his own issues and he turned out to be far more interesting than I ever would have guessed from the first novella.

The writing was also fairly strong and provided some wonderful insights into both main protagonists. Sometimes I felt there were too many short sentences together in a row, making the prose seem choppy at times. For instance, I really liked how the second chapter described Belimai’s view of the Inquisition, but at the same time it sounded rather clipped and not quite as polished as it could have:

That was the true horror of the Inquisition’s inner chambers. It was there in every pair of those unwavering eyes. The Inquisition would expose every inch of you. They discovered every function and flaw of your naked, shaking body. They dug every fear and shame out of its safe darkness. Sweet, private secrets and half-forgotten crimes, even those petty lies of vanity – none of them could be hidden. The Confessors extracted desire and illusion like rotten teeth.

And then perhaps you would die. (pp. 25)

There were many sections such as this one where I loved the general writing style but felt it would have flowed a lot better if some of those sentences had been longer. Quite a few typos also came up, which I know really has nothing to do with the strength of the novel, but I do tend to notice those things so it jars me out of the story.

The only other complaint (if you can call it that) I have about this novel is that it was too short – I would have liked to have read more in depth about Harper and Belimai, their adventures and the world Hale has created. It was over far too quickly, but while more time spent with this book would have been nice it’s certainly better than droning on for so long that reading it becomes tiresome. Not once did I want this book to be over, and it’s definitely made me want the sequel as soon as possible.

Wicked Gentlemen is an excellent debut with an intriguing alternate history, some complex characters, and some well-written descriptions and dialogue (even if sometimes not as smoothly constructed as it could be). Ginn Hale is an author whose work I will definitely be reading again.


Where I got my reading copy: I received a copy from the publisher.

Read an excerpt

Other Reviews:

This week I received one early Christmas present and one ARC. I was excited about both of them, but especially the early Christmas present.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

I have wanted to read this book for a long time but have never gotten it since it was out of print. So I was very thrilled when my husband found me a signed hardcover copy and gave it to me as an early Christmas present. It’s a science fiction story based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “Snow Queen.” I love fairy tale retellings, and I’m especially curious about combining one with science fiction (until I read the inside cover, I always assumed it was fantasy because of the fairy tale association). This one may have to be read soon after the holiday craziness is over.

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire

The second book in the October Daye series will be released on March 2, 2010. Once it got going, I had fun with Rosemary and Rue (review), the first book, and found I’d become attached to the characters enough to really want to know more about them in the next book. I was very happy to see Tybalt was mentioned early in this one since he was my favorite from the previous book.

This week I received two review copies from Blind Eye Books, which publishes science fiction and fantasy featuring gay and lesbian characters. Lately I’ve accepted none of the review copies I’ve been offered in an attempt to get caught up on the reading pile, but I remembered hearing about one of these books, read some excerpts and couldn’t resist.

The Archer’s Heart by Astrid Amara

This was the book I remembered hearing about thanks to Orannia. Back when we were both reading Havemercy, she asked me if I had read it and mentioned hearing good things about it. I read the blurb and a portion of the excerpt on the website and decided it did indeed sound good. The Archer’s Heart was a finalist in the science fiction/fantasy/horror category for the Lambda Literary Award in 2008. I’m really looking forward to reading it, but it is rather long so it will be waiting until after the holidays are over.

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

I read part of the excerpt for this one as well and was curious about it. This is actually the book I’m reading now since I picked 5 short-ish books I was considering reading and got my husband to pick one. He thought this one had the most interesting cover of the group and picked that one. I’m about 50 pages in now and like it quite a bit so far. Wicked Gentlemen was a finalist in the science fiction/fantasy/horror category for the Lambda Literary Award in 2007 and it won the Spectrum Award for Best Novel in 2008.

Black Ships
by Jo Graham
496pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.94/5

Black Ships, a retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid from the perspective of a priestess, is a debut novel written by Jo Graham. Graham has since then written a loosely connected novel set in Egypt called Hand of Isis, and she has another related novel about a soldier serving Alexander the Great called Stealing Fire coming out in May 2010. After reading Black Ships, I’m very much looking forward to reading both of these books.

This novel is the story of the Trojan people’s journey once their home is destroyed, but it begins with the life of a young girl named Gull. Gull’s mother lived in Troy until she was taken to be one of the many slaves of the king of Pylos. When she is still a child, Gull’s leg is run over by a chariot and her foot is permanently twisted, making it impossible for her to do the same manual labor as her mother. A slave who cannot work is a slave who will not eat, so Gull’s mother takes her to Pythia, the oracle of the Lady of the Dead, in hopes that she will have some work for her. Pythia keeps Gull overnight to test her, and Gull has a vision of a battle involving black ships, earning her a place at the shrine where she begins training to become the next Pythia.

When Linnea (as Gull is renamed by Pythia) is in her teens, Pythia dies and Linnea takes her place. For a while Linnea is restless and feels that the Lady of the Dead is waiting to speak to her. One morning she awakens and feels that she must get to the turn of the road quickly. When she does, she finds the nine black ships from her vision she had years ago. The Trojans, lead by the prince Aeneas, have come to take back their own. They have no home to go back to since Troy was burned and most of its people killed and do not know where they will go next. Linnea comes to the realization that the Lady of the Dead means for her to accompany them on this journey and leaves with them to serve as oracle to those of her people who remain.

Since I’ve never read The Aeneid, I cannot say how Black Ships compares to it. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this story since it’s the type of book I tend to really like – slower paced with emphasis on characters and their quest, some mythological basis and a strong narrative voice with some memorable passages. Even toward the beginning when it did not seem as though much was happening other than explaining Linnea’s early life and how she came to be Pythia (her actual name for most of the story, but to cut down on the confusion I will continue to refer to her as Linnea), I found myself immediately immersed in this book. I’d been in one of those reading slumps where I tried a couple of books and wasn’t getting into them, and then I picked up this one and found it was just what I had been looking for.

This novel feels more historical than fantasy, but there are elements that make it more than a realistic fiction tale of ancient Greece. There is the involvement of the gods and the prophecies made by Linnea. The people’s actions are influenced by the oracle’s communion with her goddess and The Lady of the Dead does not mislead them. In spite of this, not every choice is made by reliance on the gods and I liked that sometimes the goddess left her priestess to her own devices. As a young acolyte Linnea learned from Pythia that sometimes she is on her own and is expected to use her own skills as an observer to make the right choice without the aid of Persephone’s guiding voice.

Although Linnea is a solid character, I felt that we never really saw the depths of her soul despite the entire book being told in the first person perspective from her point of view. Perhaps this is because she did have to push so much of herself aside due to her role as oracle, but many events seemed to lack the emotional pull I would have expected them to have (not all, though – there were some parts that were properly tragic, especially toward the end when I did feel for her a lot). Her romantic relationship didn’t have quite the sentimentality I would have liked, but this may also have been my own fault since I was rooting for the other man in the love triangle even though I suspected it was a hopeless cause. The other characters were likable, but I did think that they could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Black Ships is an excellent debut, and I very much enjoyed reading this retelling of The Aeneid from the perspective of a woman who played a significant part in the prince’s quest. Even though I thought the characters could have had a bit more spark, Linnea’s narrative was engrossing and I’ll definitely be reading more by Jo Graham.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews: