For over a year now I’ve managed to review every single speculative fiction book I’ve read. I was hoping to continue this trend but have been behind ever since the holiday season. Then I was close to getting caught up last month before I got sick for a couple of weeks. I’ve finally given up hope on getting all those reviews in so I’m going to compromise by writing condensed, more casual (but hopefully still somewhat informative) reviews of the two books from last month that I still haven’t discussed here.

The first of these is last month’s Blogger Book Club selection, Parable of the Sower. Unfortunately, the week of the Book Club occurred on the first of the two weeks I was sick, so I didn’t write it while it was going on. The second book is one that John wanted me to read, an alternative history called The Two Georges.


Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower is a near-future dystopian novel by well-known science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It has one sequel Parable of the Talents but no cliff-hanger ending.

The future Butler describes is very grim. Resources are scarce, including water. Teenager Lauren lives in a gated community that she rarely leaves since most people would just as soon rob and kill you as look at you. Although many choose to believe they are safe within their walls, Lauren believes it is inevitable that one day the gates will be forced down and those who survive will be forced to leave.

Parable of the Sower is a slower paced book that touches on issues of social inequality and human nature. The entire story is told through Lauren’s journal, which is a pleasure to read. I very much liked Lauren, a young woman who embodies the word survivor. Instead of refusing to live in ignorance about the state of society, she attempts to educate others and keeps a survival kit for the day she is forced out of her safety net. Although she struggles with her hyperempathy syndrome that causes her physical pain when she injures another, she learns to defend herself and is willing to take any measure necessary to keep herself alive in this dreary world. She’s also very reflective and develops her own religious worldview in which God is not the god of her Baptist minister father but is change – a very realistic view for a girl who can only have hope if the world she knows does not remain stagnant. Throughout her journal, Lauren develops her religion, called Earthseed, and decides their destiny is to take root among the stars.

At times it was a little slow, but overall, I enjoyed Parable of the Sower very much for its thoughtfulness and strong main character.

8/10

The Two Georges

The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss explores a world in which the United States never gained its independence from England and the numerous groups dedicated to freedom from Great Britain are unpatriotic and treasonous. This is not the only difference between reality and the projected reality – it also exists in a steampunk setting complete with airships. The main story is the mystery of a stolen national symbol, a painting called The Two Georges that depicts the unity of George Washington and King George.

The first 100 pages were fairly interesting, the next 300 pages gave me a hard time, and the last 200 pages were much easier to read again. I ended up taking a break once or twice during that 300-page middle section because it was just so bloated. There was a lot of traveling and a lot of eating. Seriously, the author described almost every single meal the main characters ate during that section – where they were eating, what they were eating and drinking, whether or not what they were eating was good, and on a couple of occasions, whether or not anyone was offended by what someone else ordered because it was disrespectual to his/her ethnic group. One page I read had them eating at the top of the page and then eating again at the bottom of the page. Needless to say, I often ended up very hungry while reading this novel.

John told me that this book was very wordy and he had to skim a lot of the details to enjoy it. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at skimming and read every word because I’m afraid I’ll miss something important amidst all the descriptions of breakfast.

The characters were somewhat standard – the detective, his sidekick, and a token spunky woman who insisted on investigating the matter after being told not to. You know the type – the type who causes trouble with her recklessness and disobedience to orders. However, she was not an unintelligent ditz and did actually end up having quite a few valuable insights that earned her respect. Of course, the lead character fell in love with her. Shocking turn of events, I know.

The Two Georges could have been about half as long and the characters were rather generic, but I did enjoy the crime in the beginning, the resolution, and the setting.

5/10

[Editor John's Note: Yeah, I liked this book quite a bit, but it was after I had read a lot of Turtledove and developed a resistance to his wandering around in detail. I still maintain that it's an enjoyable read if you allow yourself to skim over some parts and read for concept rather than specific detail...I certainly wouldn't have wanted to finish the book if I had read every word of it. All of his work is like that, I think...but I also think that about Tolkien, so, what do I know.]

[Kristen's Note: Odd, I never had that problem with either Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit - never had any desire at all to skim it. Maybe I was more patient in my younger years.]


Next will be a return to regular review format with the last book I have up for review, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. My plan is to work on that tomorrow because I am sure it will not be long before I finish The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro because I am absolutely loving it.

The latest Mind Meld over at SF Signal asks the question: Who are the best female writers in science fiction and/or fantasy? Head on over to read what several authors, publishers, and bloggers (including myself) had to say on the subject.

Who are your favorite female authors who write science fiction and/or fantasy? There are so many I enjoy and so many yet to discover…

Apr
21
2009

Corambis
by Sarah Monette
432pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.44/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.33/5

Corambis is the fourth and final book in Sarah Monette’s character-driven fantasy series, The Doctrine of Labyrinth. The first three books are Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador, respectively, and should definitely be read in that order. This is one of my favorite series of all time so Corambis was the 2009 release I was most looking forward to. While I enjoyed Corambis very much and thought it a satisfying end to the series, it did not linger with me after I finished reading it to the same extent as the first three books. The quality of writing and characterization were still excellent, so I think this one just didn’t have as many elements that appeal to me personally as the rest of the series.

For this particular novel, I have decided to skip a plot summary because I cannot think of a way of writing even a short one with any substance that does not give away too much. This is a book largely about one character’s internal journey and not a whole lot happens in the part of the novel that I consider early enough not to be part of spoiler territory. Also, some of what does happen is not anything I would want to know before reading this book. This is the fourth book in a series so I imagine most people who would be reading this one have read enough to know what the story is about and whether or not they would like to read this one anyway.

Like The Mirador before it, Corambis is told from the viewpoint of both Felix and Mildmay plus one new perspective, belonging to a warrior involved in a rebellion by the name of Kay. Unlike the character Mehitabel, who narrated part of The Mirador, Kay is a completely new character who is never introduced in the series until his narration begins on page one of Corambis. Although I understand the inclusion of some new perspectives, I still found myself impatient to read about Mildmay and Felix since they have the strongest voices and I became very attached to both of them in the first two books. However, I did find Kay to be a lot more interesting than Mehitabel, particularly since he did seem more important.

Unfortunately for those who despise Felix, this is his story. Of course, he is the central character to the series, but The Mirador did have more scenes about Mildmay and he was the one to undergo some major development in that novel. However, Felix does grow a lot as a person in Corambis. He still has his issues and past torments and he’s still no angel but he’s not a stagnant character either. Personally, Mildmay is my favorite but I still love Felix, too, and was disappointed that his sections in the previous book were overwhelmed by more space dedicated to Mehitabel and Mildmay (mostly Mehitabel). Felix gets plenty of time in this book but this time Mildmay’s narratives are few and far between. Part of the reason this installment was not as compelling to me as the others was the lack of Mildmay. Felix is much more serious in his thoughts, and Mildmay’s straightforward way of telling it like it is is very refreshing and adds some humor. Plus Mildmay’s personality is so similar to mine that I have more empathy for him than any other character in fiction and could very much relate to him. Since he was not present as much, I did not have those moments where I could have sworn Mildmay was just like I would have been were I an assassin/kept thief growing up in the streets of Melusine.

Overall, Corambis was not as dark as the other novels in the series (and I’m sure you all know by now that I have a masochistic streak when it comes to my reading – the darker, the better). There were definitely still parts that qualified as plenty dark, but it seemed to have less of that tone overall.

Other than Felix and Mildmay, none of the characters from Melusine were in this book. I was not particularly attached to any of the minor characters, but I did miss the petty wizards of the Mirador and the city itself. Corambis was an interesting setting, but it didn’t have the same flair as Melusine for me. It was a more stifling atmosphere.

In spite of the fact that I didn’t have the urge to devote a shrine to this book, I still loved reading about Mildmay and Felix and the way they contrast each other. Felix is so educated and book smart but completely lacking in common sense. Mildmay lacks formal education and constantly annoys Felix with his bad grammar but tends to make all the intelligent observations and connections. His comments and way of thinking about the world around him often made me stop and snicker. As always, Monette excelled at writing the perspectives of both characters and making me care about them.

Although my thoughts didn’t return to it as often as I expected after reading the last sentence, Corambis was well worth reading for more on Felix and Mildmay, two of my favorite characters ever created. It still makes me sad to think this is the last new novel I’ll read about them.

8.5/10

Other reviews of Corambis:

Other reviews of books in The Doctrine of Labyrinth series:

So I finished Corambis last night (or rather, in the wee hours of the morning since it was technically sometime after 4 AM) and finally headed over to check out the Q&A Sarah Monette has running on her blog. I’d been waiting to finish the book first in case there were spoilers, but it seems I did not need to worry since she hid any question containing anything that could be considered a spoiler, even if it was a minor event or something that happened on page 2. Of course, it’s more fun to be able to read all the questions and answers without fear of spoiling the story, but if you’re curious about it don’t avoid it entirely for fear of spoilers. (Questions pertaining to The Mirador are also hidden unless you decide to click the link and read it.)

Not all the questions pertain to The Doctrine of Labyrinth series although the vast majority of them do. I found it very interesting and am amazed by the amount of thought and detail Monette put into this series. It’s very unfortunate that her writing contract was not picked up again since she is a very talented author.

Question for anyone familiar with the Cat series by Joan Vinge: Does each book in the series work as a stand alone? Quite a while ago, John picked up Dreamfall at a bargain book sale but that is the only one we have and happens to be the last book in the trilogy. After learning that the main character from that series was part of the inspiration for Mildmay, I really want to read it, though.

Another question (for anyone who has read The Bone Key): How is it? This is now the only book I have not read by Monette, including A Companion to Wolves which she cowrote with Elizabeth Bear, and I’m a little hesitant to pick it up since I’m not a huge fan of short stories. But it’s by Sarah Monette and it does sound rather intriguing so I’m torn but leaning toward “It’s by Sarah Monette, just read it already!”

Sometime over the next week or so, I’ll be working on a review of Corambis. For now, I still need to think about it some more because, honestly, I didn’t LOVE it the same way I did the first three books and I can’t figure out why. It was still good; I just didn’t have the same emotional connection with it as I did the other books in the series. The quality of writing and characterization is still very high so I’m not completely sure why other than that it must be an issue with my personal taste. Maybe it’s just because it wasn’t as dark (which isn’t to say it was not at all dark but it didn’t seem as dark as the other books in the series). I’ll have to think about that one a little more…

Feast of Souls
by C.S. Friedman
576pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.91/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.93/5

Feast of Souls is the first book in the Magister trilogy, the latest series by C.S. Friedman, perhaps best known for her Coldfire trilogy. The second book, Wings of Wrath, was just released in hardcover in February. It has yet to be announced when the final book Legacy of Kings will be available. After reading C.S. Friedman’s debut novel, the space opera In Conquest Born, I knew I had to read more of her work and after all I had heard about this one, it sounded right up my alley. Feast of Souls is a dark epic fantasy containing a wide cast of characters and many elements that are somewhat familiar to readers of the genre, yet they are well executed and the nature of magic in the world is interesting enough to keep it from feeling stale.

In Feast of Souls, magic requires great sacrifice, for those who practice it can only do so at the cost of shortening their own life. Small spells may only shave a few seconds or minutes from their time remaining but larger ones could remove a few years from the caster’s total lifespan. The prologue introduces us to Imnea, a witch in her mid-thirties who feels about eighty years old due to the amount of magic she has used. Although she has retired from spellcasting to preserve what little time she has left, the people she helped throughout the years despise her for her selfishness in refusing to give up the last little bit of life she has left to help them. When a woman comes to Imnea requesting she save her child from a plague, Imnea resists at first but ends up giving up her life to help the boy. Meanwhile, his young sister Kamala watches and determines to become the first female magister rather than die from using her ability.

The magisters are a small group of men who can wield magic to their heart’s content without dying. Many of them have survived for centuries despite rather liberal use of their power. Their secret of longevity is only known to themselves and no woman has ever been able to accept the consequences of becoming a magister, for the cost of magic is still life itself and magisters simply use another person to fuel their spells. When the Prince Andovan is diagnosed with the Wasting disease associated with those who are bound to a magister, their ugly secret is threatened – a truth that must remain hidden from the general public so the vulnerabilities of the magisters is not exposed.


This book was a little difficult to get into toward the beginning, as it switched back and forth between characters and introduced the main players and their motivations. However, once the story got going, it was difficult to put down and I ended up staying up late one night to finish it because I just had to know how it ended as soon as possible. The story is far from finished, though, with many questions left unanswered in the first installment of this trilogy.

Overall, there were many plot elements and character descriptions that seemed like very typical fantasy tropes. An old, nearly forgotten threat to the world returns true to the prophecy that what had happened before would happen again. Most people regarded this danger as an old myth but a few chosen to defend remember it. There is a mad king (both crazy-mad and temperamental-mad) who is led astray by a corrupt adviser. A mysterious wizard seems to know more about events than he is willing to share. These are still handled well, but there are two main parts that make a Feast of Souls stand out from the typical fantasy novel: the examination of power via effects of wielding magic and Kamala.

C.S. Friedman’s portrayal of power is harsh. It’s fleeting for those who are not cold enough to use the energy of other people. The only way to remain strong is to be a survivor, to be willing to look out for yourself first and remain alive no matter what the consequences – even if it means that somewhere an innocent person dies to keep you hale. Although the means of becoming a magister is horrible, they do some good. Power is not always exercised for selfish reasons – one may use the life force of a single person to save several people.

Most of the characters did not seem particularly well developed or out of the ordinary to me in this largely plot-driven novel – the one big exception to this was Kamala. From early on, the one character whose story always hooked me and kept me reading was Kamala’s. The powerful scene in the prologue showed a defining moment in shaping her life and from then on I was very intrigued by the young woman who had the strength and determination to pursue a path knowing that all others of her gender had not been able to follow it. She has not had a happy life (her mother was poor and sold Kamala to men as a prostitute at a young age) but has come out more resilient instead of weakened. Kamala is not a “good” character but she is not come across as an “evil” person, either. It is perfectly reasonable that she would be hardened, but she is not completely heartless.

Feast of Souls is the beginning of what promises to be an entertaining dark fantasy series. Although it has some obvious characteristics of the genre, there are enough elements done well that it’s well worth the read and I’m looking forward to the next book (although I will be waiting for it to come to paperback).

8/10

Read the prologue (scroll down)

Other Reviews:

Iron Kissed
by Patricia Briggs
304pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.29/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.42/5

Iron Kissed is the third book in the popular Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy series by New York Times bestselling author Patricia Briggs. Currently, there are four books in this series about the shape-shifting mechanic and one book in the Alpha and Omega series set in the same world with the second novel forthcoming this summer. The first book in the Mercedes Thompson series is Moon Called, the second is Blood Bound, and the fourth is Bone Crossed (which was recently released in hardcover). When completed, the series will contain at least seven books.

In the previous book, Mercy racked up yet another favor when her fae friend Zee lent her some useful items for vanquishing some nasty vampires. While she is at movie night with the werewolf Warren and his boyfriend, Zee calls and requests she repay him immediately. Several fae have been murdered in their homes on the fae reservation and Zee hopes that Mercy can use her coyote senses to pick up a scent common to all the crime scenes. She does indeed manage to find one smell present at each house, which leads to the imprisonment of Zee when he goes to confront the suspect just in time to find his fresh corpse.

Mercy decides to help Zee as much as she can, even if it means angering some of the other fae who would rather she mind her own business. Meanwhile, it has become apparent that Mercy needs to choose between Samuel and Adam as the tension escalates between the two very dominant werewolves. It’s a decision she’s not sure that she can make – not only does she care for both but she can’t imagine losing the friendship of either one.


Each book in this series I read is better than its predecessor. Of course, I may be a bit partial to this one because this time the main mystery involves the fae, which fascinate me far more than werewolves or vampires. Ever since I was about 6 years old, I’ve loved the more disturbing fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson and The Brothers Grimm, so they have always held a special place in my heart. The fae of Mercy’s world are of the devious variety – the type you cannot turn your back on for a moment and under no circumstances does one want to owe them. In addition to their dark natures, I also really love the mythology surrounding them and the wide variety of fae races.

Putting aside my bias toward the subject of the mythos of the dark fae, the writing in this book is an improvement over the earlier ones. It is very impressive that Briggs can pack so much into such a short novel. She maintains great balance between action/plot and character/relationship development. Dull moments are non-existent and this was another page-turner that I could hardly put down. Now that there are a few books, the info dumps are becoming less frequent and jarring, although they are still present. It did feel a bit formulaic in the beginning since the mystery plotline was introduced basically the same as the last book – Mercy was asked to return a favor she owed someone who somehow helped her save the day in the last book.

Mercy remains the same character I came to love in the first two books. Even if she does have shape-shifting ability, she is very realistic and human. She tends to be practical and down-to-earth, but she’s not perfect and does have difficulty with keeping her mouth shut at times. Loyalty and friendship are important to her, and part of her difficulty with choosing between Samuel and Adam is the thought of hurting one of them. Yet she is also a very independent woman and will not let either of them walk all over her – if she feels one of them is being too possessive or trying to provoke the other, she makes a point of backing off. This isn’t to say she never gives in to her feelings toward one of them, but when she does, it’s generally not for long before her better judgment kicks in. Both of these men are dominant, overbearing werewolf control freaks, though, so it will be interesting to see if she can continue to deal with them without completely compromising her free spirit.

The love triangle is a refreshing departure from the norm – it is not particularly angsty and Mercy never takes of advantage of it. She is not flirty and she doesn’t gloat about being so popular with the men (even if it is a little uncanny how many of them are attracted to a woman who is described as being not particularly pretty). As with everything else, she has a pragmatic attitude toward it. When she does think about Samuel or Adam, she does not let her heart overrule her head but really thinks about who is right for her and how he would affect her life. Also, the conundrum of who Mercy ends up with is resolved in this novel – and without a lot of drama, in a way that really works and makes sense.

This novel does contain a scene toward the end that is more disturbing than the other two books in the series so far. Since it would be a spoiler to say what it is, it’s a little tough to warn those who may find it difficult to read about it. Despite the severe circumstances, it was executed without being overly graphic. In fact, there was so little detail that I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened at first and had to reread the scene.

Iron Kissed is another strong (but somewhat darker) installment in the Mercy Thompson series involving supernatural races, an entertaining mystery plot, and an endearing lead character. This is the most fun new series I have discovered so far this year and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by Patricia Briggs, both in this series and some of her older ones.

8.5/10

Read Chapter One