Wherein I discuss books added to the leaning pile over the last week just in case some of them look interesting you too!

This was a big week – I raided the hardcovers and trade paperbacks at my local Borders and came out with 6 books for the price of 2 hardcovers at regular Borders prices. Not bad, especially managing to limit myself as much as I did. I thought I was going a bit crazy, but there were about 6 more books I considered buying and didn’t!  Also, my husband won a signed galley of a certain book that showed up this week, which can be seen on Twitter in all its signed glory.  In addition, one unsolicited review copy showed up at my door.

For reviews, I’m working on one of One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire which will hopefully go up on release date. The fifth October Daye book comes out on Tuesday (hint: if you liked the previous books in the series, I suspect you’ll want to read this one too).

Here are the books!

Snuff by Terry PratchettSnuff by Terry Pratchett

My husband actually won this when he pre-ordered a signed copy of Snuff (along with a bunch of other signed books). But winning the galley meant he actually got it early and he got to read it early. Yes, he’s already read it and he quite enjoyed it too!

Snuff is #39 in the Discworld series and follows the characters of the City Watch. It will be released in the US on October 11 and in the UK on October 13.  It will be available in hardcover and ebook formats.

According to the writer of the best-selling crime novel ever to have been published in the city of Ankh-Morpork, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday would barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

And Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder.

He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment.

They say that in the end all sins are forgiven.

But not quite all…

Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko OgiwaraDragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara, translated by Cathy Hirano

This was a rare impulse buy for me. I very rarely buy a book I’ve heard nothing about. In fact, before this I would have said I never do that. My husband actually came across this one when we were browsing books at Borders and wanted to know if I’d heard anything about it. I actually hadn’t, but we both thought it sounded interesting.  I skimmed the first page just to make sure the writing seemed decent. It did so I decided to take a chance on it since it was cheap. After looking it up, I’m glad I did since it seems to have a lot of good reviews, and the more I look into it, the better it looks.  It’s actually the one I picked up that I’m the most excited about reading now.

This is the first book in the Tales of the Magatama trilogy, a Japanese fantasy series. The first two books have been translated into English, this one and Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince. According to the website, the third book is only available in Japanese and Chinese right now, but I’m hopeful it will be translated as well since these two books were just released in English this year and last. I just hope it doesn’t end up like the Twelve Kingdoms series, another Japanese fantasy series I was reading which seems to have stalled out after translating a few of the books.

In the land of Toyoashihara, the forces of the God of Light and the Goddess of Darkness have waged war for generations. But for 15-year old Saya, the war is far away and unimportant–until the day she discovers she is the reincarnation of the Water Maiden and a princess of the Children of the Dark. Raised to love the Light and detest the Dark, Saya must come to terms with her heritage even as she is tumbled into the very heart of the conflict that is destroying her country. Both the army of the Light and Dark seek to claim her, for she is the only mortal who can awaken the legendary Dragon Sword, the weapon destined to end the war. Can Saya make the dreadful choice between the Light and Dark, or is she doomed like all the Water Maidens who have come before her?

Songs of Love and Death edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner DozoisSongs of Love and Death edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This anthology has an incredible list of authors – Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Carey, Robin Hobb, Tanith Lee, Peter S. Beagle, M. L. N. Hanover, and Linnea Sinclair, to name a few.  I don’t normally buy anthologies since I prefer novels to short stories, but with this collection of authors and subject matter I couldn’t resist. Also, “You, and You Alone” by Jacqueline Carey is about Anafiel Delaunay so I expect that’s a rather interesting story.

In this star-studded cross-genre anthology, seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with brand-new tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a postapocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth- century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate.

Featuring stories by New York Times bestselling romance authors Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and by such legends of the fantasy genre as Peter S. Beagle and Tanith Lee, as well as many other popular writers, including Marjorie M. Liu, Jacqueline Carey, Carrie Vaughn, and Robin Hobb. This exquisite anthology, crafted by the peerless editing team of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is sure to leave you under its spell.

Ship Breaker by Paolo BacigalupiShip Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Here’s another book (and author) I’ve had my eye on for a while since this YA novel has been garnering quite a bit of praise. It was a National Book Award finalist and it won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It was also a nominee for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Literature.  It sounds pretty interesting too.

Set initially in a future shanty town in America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being dissembled for parts by a rag tag group of workers, we meet Nailer, a teenage boy working the light crew, searching for copper wiring to make quota and live another day. The harsh realities of this life, from his abusive father, to his hand to mouth existence, echo the worst poverty in the present day third world. When an accident leads Nailer to discover an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, and the lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl, Nailer finds himself at a crossroads. Should he strip the ship and live a life of relative wealth, or rescue the girl, Nita, at great risk to himself and hope she’ll lead him to a better life. This is a novel that illuminates a world where oil has been replaced by necessity, and where the gap between the haves and have-nots is now an abyss. Yet amidst the shadows of degradation, hope lies ahead.

Surface Detail by Iain M. BanksSurface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Ever since reading The Player of Games and Use of Weapons, I’ve been slowly collecting the Culture novels. I LOVED The Player of Games especially, and it is one of my favorite science fiction novels. So picking up a 66% off copy of a Culture novel I didn’t have was a no brainer.

It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

SURFACE DETAIL is Iain M. Banks’ new Culture novel, a breathtaking achievement from a writer whose body of work is without parallel in the modern history of science fiction.

The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew JonesThe Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

I’ve been hearing good things about this book and it sounded like fun so it’s been on my radar for a little while. It’s a debut novel that just came out this year. An excerpt is available on the author’s website.

The glittering tradition of sword-and-sorcery sweeps into the sands of ancient Arabia with the heart-stopping speed of a whirling dervish in this thrilling debut novel from new talent Howard Andrew Jones

In 8th century Baghdad, a stranger pleads with the vizier to safeguard the bejeweled tablet he carries, but he is murdered before he can explain. Charged with solving the puzzle, the scholar Dabir soon realizes that the tablet may unlock secrets hidden within the lost city of Ubar, the Atlantis of the sands. When the tablet is stolen from his care, Dabir and Captain Asim are sent after it, and into a life and death chase through the ancient Middle East.

Stopping the thieves—a cunning Greek spy and a fire wizard of the Magi—requires a desperate journey into the desert, but first Dabir and Asim must find the lost ruins of Ubar and contend with a mythic, sorcerous being that has traded wisdom for the souls of men since the dawn of time.  But against all these hazards there is one more that may be too great even for Dabir to overcome…

River Marked by Patricia BriggsRiver Marked by Patricia Briggs

I am a huge fan of the Mercy Thompson series so this was another no-brainer and one of the books I was looking for.  It’s one of my three favorite urban fantasy series, mostly because I just love Mercy’s character. This is the sixth book in the series and it sounds like it goes more into Mercy’s heritage so I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens! A sample chapter is available on the author’s website.

Car mechanic Mercy Thompson has always known there was something different about her, and not just the way she can make a VW engine sit up and beg. Mercy is a shapeshifter, a talent she inherited from her long-gone father. She’s never known any others of her kind. Until now.

An evil is stirring in the depths of the Columbia River-one that her father’s people may know something about. And to have any hope of surviving, Mercy and her mate, the Alpha werewolf Adam, will need their help…

Angel by Nicole Marrow and Laura HaydenAngel by Nicole “Coco” Marrow and Laura Hayden

This would be the unsolicited review copy. I can’t say it sounds like my cup of tea, but then I was also disappointed because when I saw the publisher name on the package there was a particular book I was REALLY hoping this would be.

Angel will be available on September 13 in trade paperback and ebook formats. An excerpt is available online.

A beautiful woman awakens on a plane and discovers that things are going terribly wrong. The plane is about to crash into the Hudson River…and she can’t even remember her own name.

After she survives the crash, the airline determines that her name is Angela Sands. But she has no idea who she really is.

Reporter Dante Kearns is fascinated by the woman the media dubs “the Angel of the Hudson,” especially once he discovers her shocking secret. Angela can hear voices in her head—the thoughts of all men around her. And when a man gets close, her face and form change into the woman of his dreams.

Who is Angela? And why does she believe that she was murdered before she woke up on that plane in a stranger’s body? Together, Angela and Dante are going to find answers, even if they have to bring down a killer to do so.

Nicole “Coco” Marrow, wife of Ice-T, keeps readers guessing with her pulse-pounding debut novel.

I saw something that made me sad yesterday: an announcement on Moira J. Moore’s blog saying that Ace will not be publishing the rest of the books in her Heroes series (called the Lee and Taro series on the official website). I recently discovered these books, had a lot of fun reading the first two, and have been looking forward to reading the rest. There are currently six books total: Resenting the Hero, The Hero Strikes Back, Heroes Adrift, Heroes at Risk, Heroes Return, and Heroes at Odds.

However, publisher or not, the author does intend to write a final book wrapping up the series even if she just ends up putting it up on her blog.  I think it is great that she is planning to finish the series anyway and it sounds like she’ll be having a lot of fun with it. It still makes me sad to see the publisher dropping a series I’ve been having a lot of fun reading – especially when the covers they designed for it cannot have helped its sales.  They’re cheesy and just plain bad.  They don’t represent the contents of the books very well at all, and in no way do they make one want to pick up the books and read them.  It’s frustrating to me as a reader who would like to see them do well. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be the author and have the series dropped before it is finished, but she is handling it with more grace than I think I’d ever be able to in her place.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that maybe someone else will pick up the series.

Cold Magic is the first book in the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliott.  On the author’s website, the series is described as “an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”  The second book, Cold Fire, is scheduled for release on September 1 in the UK and September 26 in the US. There is not yet a release date for Cold Steel, the third book.

When she was just a little girl, both of Cat Barahal’s parents died. Ever since then, Cat has lived with her aunt and uncle’s family, and she remembers her father as much as possible by reading his journals over and over again.  She and her cousin Bee, who are almost exactly the same age, grew up together, became best friends, and now both study at the academy.  On the surface, they’re two fairly normal young women, even if they do have a penchant for stirring up minor mischief during lectures.  Yet Cat knows there are family secrets hiding beneath the surface even if she’s not in the know about the details. It turns out she also has some secrets of their own –  some magical gifts that her mother warned her never to divulge to anyone.

It comes as a surprise to Cat when a cold mage appears at the door one evening, claiming the oldest of the Barahal daughters according to the contract the cold mages made with the Barahal family.  Fearing her cousin is in danger, Cat immediately steps forward and makes it known that she is the older of the two.  Her statement that she is the oldest is tested and proves accurate, and she suddenly finds herself in a magically binding marriage with this mysterious man. That very night she is forced to leave her home and Bee behind with no explanation to face a new life with this cold, arrogant stranger, leaving Cat to wonder:  What secrets has her family been hiding and what do the cold mages have to do with them?

Cold Magic is a delightful, enjoyable story that left me excited about reading the next book. However, in spite of the fact that Cat’s voice captured me from page one, it did take a little while for it to fully engage me and get to that point. The beginning with Cat and Bee attending school lectures was a bit slow, and there are some other parts where the pace is slow as well.  The second half was so compelling that I’d find my reading of “one last chapter” turning into more than that because I just had to know what happened next, though. By the time it ended, I was glad I didn’t have long to wait for the next installment.

This is one of those books that’s about an alternate earth with a rewritten history and magic.  Yet this world is so foreign that it feels like secondary world fantasy in spite of that.  There are mentions of Romans and Celts and Africa, but most of the time it’s easy to forget this has any resemblance to our earth with the airships, the cold mages, the different houses, the spirit world, and the trolls who inhabit the distant Amerike.  The shape of the land mass on the map is the same and some of the general peoples are the same, but there’s generally so few specific similarities to our world that it rarely felt like earth to me. It is very different indeed and felt like a whole new world.

The setting is the most unique characteristic of the novel.  The story was not complex and there were some very traditional fantasy tropes – but this is a case of traditional fantasy tropes done well, both because of the author’s storytelling ability and the strength of the world. It was at its heart about a fairly young person with some mysterious magical abilities and a background shrouded in mystery. Cat is thrust into a magical world that she has no real prior in-depth knowledge of and is a bit out of her element.  She has to unravel the secret of her identity, what is going on, and why this happened to her.  From time to time she is fed obscure bits of knowledge and given convenient aid when it’s needed.  However, watching how it all unfolds still remains riveting, even if certain parts were rather predictable.  Partly, this is getting to see everything through Cat’s eyes.

My first impression was that Cat wasn’t a very deep character.  After giving it some thought, I still believe that since she doesn’t have complex nuances of personality or undergo any major personal growth through the story.  However, I also think that in many ways she’s a very well-done character.  She does have a certain simplicity, but it’s not a bad thing since she has plenty of other qualities that round her out.  For one, she had an engaging narrative voice that made me take notice from the very first lines:


The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.

Or at least, that’s how the dawn chill felt in the bedchamber as I shrugged out from beneath the cozy feather comforter under which my cousin and I slept. I winced as I set my feet on the brutally cold wood floor. Any warmth from last evening’s fire was long gone. At this early hour, Cook would just be getting the kitchen’s stove going again, two floors below. But last night I had slipped a book out of my uncle’s parlor and brought it to read in my bedchamber by candlelight, even though we were expressly forbidden from doing so. He had even made us sign a little contract stating that we had permission to read my father’s journals and the other books in the parlor as long as we stayed in the parlor and did not waste expensive candlelight to do so. I had to put the book back before he noticed it was gone, or the cold would be the least of my troubles. [pp. 1]

Perhaps it’s the fact that in this short excerpt I could already identify with her as a heroine who loved to read so much that here she was getting up early and braving the freezing cold to put back her forbidden book before it got her in trouble – but I read this and just knew I had to read this book.

In addition to her narrative, Cat worked so well because she was a realistic young woman who does what you would expect of one.  She and Bee attend classes together and gossip about young men, although the latter is more for Bee’s benefit.  Cat can be a bit impulsive, but in minor ways, and a lot of it stems from her willingness to do anything for her best friend: she is intensely loyal and the type of person you’d want to be friends with. Later, the way she reacts to her situation also shows an independent woman with a strong survival instinct.  She can wield a sword and hold her own in a fight, but she doesn’t cross the line into being a woman whose first instinct is to jump in with her sword drawn.  She strikes the right balance between being the equal of any character in the book but not being so incredibly extraordinary that she’s too amazing to be someone that one can relate to.

Other than Cat, I did think most of the characters were rather one dimensional and underdeveloped, although most of the important ones were decently developed even if not particularly complex either.  I did enjoy Andevai’s character very much as it became clear that he was not who he first appeared and there were reasons why he acted like such a prideful bastard.  Bee also had a decent amount of development as she came to life through her conversations with Cat.  I loved the emphasis on the friendship between the two and the way the two interacted. Cat and Bee are fiercely devoted to each other, and I think it’s a pleasant change to see a book where a good part of the focus on relationships is on a true friendship instead of a romance (although there is a little bit of that too!). Other than these three, it didn’t seem that we really got to know any of the characters on more than a surface level, though.

Cold Magic is a very enjoyable book that made me eager to read the rest of the series in spite of some slow pacing.  There are some often utilized fantasy cliches, but they don’t detract from this particular book.  For one thing, the setting gives it a uniqueness that sets it apart.  In addition, Kate Elliott has the storytelling ability to keep it very readable and has created a main character with realistic qualities and a strong narrative voice. I’m definitely planning to read the sequel and am looking forward to Cold Fire!

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

Other Reviews:

After a couple of weeks without books (!), this week brought 1 ARC, 1 finished review copy, and 3 I bought myself with a gift card.  Both the review copies are books I’ve already talked about since I picked up copies of each at this year’s Book Expo America.  So if you are interested in reading more about Blood Rights (House of Comarre #1) by Kristen Painter or Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1) by Michael J. Sullivan, there’s more on this post about books from BEA.  These are both books I really want to read so hopefully I’ll be reading them sometime around release date. (I actually considered starting Blood Rights now since the finished copy showed up, but I couldn’t make up my mind about that or 3 other books. I submitted to the whims of random.org and it chose a different book for me.)

For reviews, I should at least have one for Cold Magic by Kate Elliott up this week.

The Cloud Roads by Martha WellsThe Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Martha Wells has been on my “authors I should read” list for a while.  She has written eleven novels and one of them, The Death of the Necromancer, was nominated for a Nebula.  In spite of that, I had no idea where to start with her books until this book came out and I saw that both Ana and Thea of The Book Smugglers really enjoyed it.  It sounded wonderful, and it’s been in my mind for next time I place a book order ever since.  Then N. K. Jemisin raved about it on Twitter and Goodreads, and I decided to place that order stat. I’ve already started it since this was the book random.org selected for me when I couldn’t choose for myself, and it hooked me in the first chapter.  It’s rare for a book to hook me that well so quickly. There may be something interesting about the beginning, but usually I can put a new book aside after chapter one.  With this one, I picked it up and decided to read the first chapter before doing something. Then I got to the end and was all like “No!  What happens now? What?!”

According to the author’s website, which also includes an excerpt, this is volume 1 of The Books of the Raksura. Volume 2, The Serpent Sea, is scheduled for release in January 2012. If you’ve read volume 1 already, there is also an excerpt available for book 2 that is linked to on that page, as well as the author’s other books.

Moon has spent his life hiding what he is – a shape-shifter able to transform himself into a winged creature of flight. An orphan with only vague memories of his own kind, Moon tries to fit in among the tribes of his river valley, with mixed success. Just as Moon is once again cast out by his adopted tribe, he discovers a shape-shifter like himself… someone who seems to know exactly what he is, who promises that Moon will be welcomed into his community. What this stranger doesn’t tell Moon is that his presence will tip the balance of power… that his extraordinary lineage is crucial to the colony’s survival… and that his people face extinction at the hands of the dreaded Fell! Now Moon must overcome a lifetime of conditioning in order to save and himself… and his newfound kin.

Zoo City by Lauren BeukesZoo City by Lauren Beukes

I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, which won the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award and is a nominee for the World Fantasy Award this year (winners have not yet been announced). Seeing Lauren Beukes was nominated for – and nearly won – this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer prompted me to finally pick up a copy. It’s one of those I never would have picked up based on the blurb, but all the positive responses to it definitely have me curious about it. Now that I think about it, I suppose I would read very few books if I decided to based solely on blurbs and back cover descriptions, though.

A sample is available to read on the publisher’s website.

Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a little old lady turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons.

Being hired by reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass and their animal companions live in the shadow of hell’s undertow.

Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the maw of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she’ll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own.

Redemption In Indigo by Karen LordRedemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

This is a debut novel I’ve heard a lot of good things about as well, and like the above book, it’s a 2011 World Fantasy Award nominee. It sounds very interesting, but then “trickster” in a description always makes me perk up a little.

An excerpt is available on Tor.com.

Karen Lord’s debut novel is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit. Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents’ home in the village of Makendha—now he’s disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones—the djombi— who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord’s world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals is inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale—but Paama’s adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.


The 2011 Hugo Award winners were announced at Worldcon in Reno, Nevada, last night.  The winners are as follows:

Best Novel
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Best Novella
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

Best Novelette
“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele

Best Short Story
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Best Related Work
Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea

Best Graphic Story
Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes

Best Editor, Short Form
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
Lou Anders

Best Professional Artist
Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine
Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker

Best Fanzine
The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon

Best Fan Writer
Claire Brialey

Best Fan Artist
Brad W. Foster

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo Award but presented at the same time)
Lev Grossman

As usual, there has been discussion all over the Internet about who should have won or been nominated.  I always feel like I’ve never read enough books to really comment on them since a) I haven’t read a great many of the nominated works or authors and b) I’m sure there are lots of great books published for any given year that I just haven’t had the opportunity to read yet.  So I usually refrain from commenting too much, but with that in mind, here’s some thoughts.

Out of the novels nominated this year, I have read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin and Feed by Mira Grant and enjoyed both of them to different degrees (loved the former, liked the latter). While I’ve read several of the Miles Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold, I haven’t gotten caught up to Cryoburn yet. I haven’t read anything by Connie Willis or Ian McDonald. From this list, I was rooting for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but not having read the winner I can’t really say whether or not I would have wanted it to win instead.

Looking over books read that were published in 2010, it’s hard to say which ones I would have picked myself, especially because I’m never sure what criteria to base selections off for something like this. Favorite books? Most memorable books? Best written books, best plotted books, most creative books? Books that are all around strong in a number of factors such as writing, characterization, world, ideas and/or creativity, and plot?  This would be why I just do a “favorites” list at the end of the year – it’s much easier than figuring out “best read” and what exactly that is supposed to mean anyway!  If going by all around as my criteria for what constitutes a winner, I would have loved to have seen The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente considered for this award. Also, while I was very glad to see N.K. Jemisin on the list of nominees, I would have chosen The Broken Kingdoms over The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms myself (both were released last year and I thought the second one was stronger).

I was glad to see Lev Grossman win the Campbell since I enjoyed both The Magician and The Magician King (the latter of which would not have been out at the time of his nomination), but I have to admit I haven’t read any of the other authors to compare. With all the praise I’ve been hearing for Lauren Beukes and her novel Zoo City, though, I think I just may have to remedy that soon!

How did you feel about this year’s winners?  Who do you think should have been nominated for/won in these categories and why?

The Tempering of Men is the second book in the Iskryne series co-authored by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette.  The first book is A Companion to Wolves, which began as a fun parody of the concept of animal companions and evolved into a novel. A third book, An Apprentice to Elves, is supposed to be released in 2013. The Tempering of Men was released today as a hardcover and an ebook.

Since this is a review for the second book in a series, there will be spoilers for the first book.  If you want to read about A Companion to Wolves instead of spoiling yourself reading about its sequel, that book review is here.

The queen wolf Viradechtis has selected her mate and her human companion Isolfr’s helpers in a rather unconventional manner – by choosing two mates and therefore two men to lead the men of the wolfheall.  While the three wolves are quite fond of each other, this choice ends up being much more problematic for the three men bonded to the wolves.  Vethulf and Skjaldwulf could not be more different.  Vethulf is hot-tempered and outspoken while Skjaldwulf is quiet, introspective, and slower to speak his mind.  To make matters worse, both of them are quite taken with Isolfr despite the fact that he has no romantic interest in either of them.  When the two must go out to war together against the trolls, they’re pushed together by their wolves.  They may even be starting to put aside their differences once they’ve succeeding in destroying the trolls, but will it last or is it just a temporary reprieve due to the tragedy of war?

The two will need to learn to get along, especially as the wolfheall is facing an even tougher challenge then the foes they’ve faced: the possibility of becoming obsolete.  The wolves and their warriors have always fought against the trolls, but now that they’ve vanquished them, there’s concern among the various wolfhealls about whether of not they’ll be useful anymore.  While there will always be threats to men, the wolves are not concerned with being conquerors or the wishes of wolfless men.

When a godsman comes to the wolfheall wanting to record the account of Isolfr’s vision of Freya, he invites Skjaldwulf to journey back with him, thinking he will appreciate their extensive archives.  After thinking about it, Skjaldwulf believes it may be worth taking a look through to see if there is any knowledge that will help the wolfhealls plan for the future.  He considers the offer, and when one of the brothers of the wolfheall decides to leave to help his trueborn sibling against an attack, Vethulf arranges for them to travel together with the godsman.  When traveling south Skjaldwulf learns more of this army and is prominently involved in the decision on how to respond to the threat, beginning the process of stepping into his own new role and possibly changing that of the wolfhealls.

After finishing The Tempering of Men, my first thought was that it was just as enjoyable as A Companion to Wolves. I found it had a slower start, but by the end I was really enjoying it.  Since rereading parts of both books and letting it sink in a little more, I’ve decided that while the sequel is certainly worth reading and had a greater number of well-rounded characters, the first book worked better all around.  It was easier to become immersed in and I preferred the focus on just one main character for a novel of this relatively short length.  Also, The Tempering of Men did feel like a middle book since it isn’t quite resolved by the end and much of what did happen is setting up a bigger story.

It did take me a little while to get involved in The Tempering of Men and really want to find out what happened next.  There seemed to be a larger frequency of Norse names to stumble over for a bit, and it took some time to get going, partially because there were three main characters to focus on instead of just one.  While the previous volume was mainly about Isolfr, this book shifted him to the background and moved his two wolfjarls, Skjaldwulf and Vethulf, and Brokkolfr, another man bonded to a female wolf, to the forefront.  By focusing on Isolfr and his experience with becoming a companion to a wolf and eventually a leader, the first book served as an introduction to this world.

In contrast, this book is about three seasoned wolfcarls, albeit ones that need to adjust to new roles within their community.  Skjaldwulf and Vethulf have already been bonded to wolves for a while, but the two have been thrust into leading men by the choice of Viradechtis. They have to come to terms with their new duties, competition with each other, and preparing for the wolfheall to change with the trolls gone.  Brokkolfr’s part of the story mostly involves a discovery he makes while exploring one day, but he too is learning to step into new responsibilities as he counsels Isolfr – and puts it upon himself to tell him hard truths that he may not want to hear.  He certainly admires his wolfsprechend and finds a lot to commend about him, but there are some cases where Brokkolfr sees Isolfr’s discomfort with aspects of his role getting in his way when it comes to preparing other men bonded to female wolves.  This book is arguably just as much about the characters and their growth as it is any events, and of the three, it’s mostly Skjaldwulf’s story.  He’s the one who takes it upon himself to instigate change and makes the most difference in the end.

This would not be a Bear and Monette book if there was no emphasis on gender and sexuality, although they are part of the story rather than exposition on issues.  Since it has moved away from the coming of age story and introducing a new boy to what it means to be companion to a queen wolf, there’s less emphasis on mating in this one.  I thought this was a good choice since it’s covered pretty thoroughly in the first volume and it might seem excessive if it was also prominent in this book.  That’s not to say it’s ignored, but like Isolfr, it’s more in the background and comes up less.  Also, many of these men are gay, combating the stereotype of the “manly” Viking warrior who lusts after the buxom lasses.  That’s not to say the authors went the route of deciding every man in this all-male society was gay, either.  Some of them still prefer women, and some of them even have children. This creates a new layer of conflict since one of these men is Isolfr, who is coveted by many (and whom Skjaldwulf desperately wishes didn’t seem to prefer women).

I also found it interesting that they included a woman who became heir to her father, a war leader, because he had no sons to be his heir.  For all intents and purposes, she became a man – dressing like one, acting like one, and always referred to with male pronouns.

The Tempering of Men is different from A Companion to Wolves.  While the latter was more of an introduction to the world through the eyes of a young person being initiated into it, the new installment is about more experienced members of the society.  It’s a bit more epic in feel with more main characters and some questing.  I appreciate the fact that it does take the story in a new direction, but I also found the first book a little bit stronger just because it was easier to pick up and become immersed in.  Plus these are not very long books, so just having one main character worked a little better, although we do know some of these characters going in so it’s also not by any means a bad choice to have more than one main character. It also had a middle book feel since the things that did happen seemed like they’d be more important in the next book.  While I enjoyed it very much, I did enjoy the previous book a little more; however, it has not at all dampened my enthusiasm any for more books set in Iskryne.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read Chapter One

Other Reviews:

Reviews of other books in this series:

  1. A Companion to Wolves