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:


Do I dare make a December reading list? I’m not so sure I do after last month’s failed attempt, especially considering December was the month last year that I managed to read the fewest books due to the busy holiday season. So I think I’ll learn my lesson from last year (when I attempted to read a 700 – 800 page book that I just didn’t have time for) and stick to short-ish books for December. I am going to set goals of reading The Dragons of Hazlett by Michelle Scott and The Wolverine Files by Mike W. Barr since they’re not too long and have been in my pile for a while, though.

Right now I’m most of the way through The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay, which I’m having fun with. Next I’m not sure what to read – I’m considering Graceling, Unseen Academicals, Hunting Ground, Night’s Master, Resenting the Hero or a Catherine Asaro book. And several others. (I’m not at all indecisive.)

November was a great reading month since I read three books that I loved above and beyond the average “good” book – Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor, By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear and Black Ships by Jo Graham (which I’m working on a review of now).

What’s everyone planning to read this December? Has anyone else found they have the same problem with reading this month that I do?

So much for getting caught up on all my reviews this vacation weekend… I was planning to but I’ve been on the computer far less than normal. (Apparently, planning isn’t working well this month since I only read about half the books on my reading list for the month.) When I do start writing them, I’ve got three reviews to do now: Black Ships by Jo Graham (great book), An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures by David West and Anita Ganeri (good for the right age group), and Busted Flush edited by George R. R. Martin (pretty good). I just started reading The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay, which has started out fast-paced and entertaining.

This week I got one book that I ordered a little while ago.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

This is one I have really wanted ever since reading Thea’s review at The Book Smugglers. Part Jane Austen, part Charlotte Bronte and a fantasy book? Sounds like a book I must read! I had been waiting for the cheaper trade paperback release (which was earlier this month so it is out now), but recently Amazon had the hardcover as one of it’s bargain books so it was actually cheaper than even the $10 trade paperback price. Of course, that was a deal I simply could not resist.

By the Mountain Bound
by Elizabeth Bear
320pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 2/5

By the Mountain Bound is the second book in The Edda of Burdens series by Elizabeth Bear even though it is actually a prequel to the first book, All the Wind-wracked Stars (review). The series is based on Norse mythology and the first novel began with the end of the world. By the Mountain Bound fills in the backstory leading up to this cataclysmic event. The third book, The Sea thy Mistress, is scheduled for release in October 2010.

For over 500 years, the Children of the Light (other than the outcast Mingan, the Wolf) have lived together in Valdygard where they follow their leader Strifbjorn. In spite of his status with the other Children, Strifbjorn is rather fond of Mingan, who does visit Valdygard for major events including the wedding that the historian Muire recalls as the beginning of the end. For after the wedding, Strifbjorn found what appeared to be a nearly dead mortal woman washed up on the shore. However, it soon becomes apparent that she is no mortal as the woman defeats warriors with an uncanny strength. She claims to be the Lady they have been waiting for, and the Children of the Light are then divided, leading to the events the previous novel began with.

The narrative in By the Mountain Bound is divided among three perspectives: that of the Wolf, Mingan; the Historian, Muire; and the Warrior, Strifbjorn. Mingan and Muire’s parts are both told in the first person, but Strifbjorn’s sections are told in the third person. This seems fitting as Mingan and Muire both seem to be more central characters, particularly Mingan who was the most prominent one of the three and my favorite to read about (although Muire was a close second).

Bear is not easy on her characters and all three have it pretty rough, especially Mingan. Mingan is feared by all the einherjar and valkyrie with the exception of Strifbjorn. When he shows up at the wedding, Muire ends up having to serve him because nobody else will go near him, and even she runs away once she has given him his drink. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Mingan when reading the parts told from his perspective. Although she is not an outcast, Muire does not seem to quite fit in with the other valkyries since she is more of a scholar than a warrior. Like most of the valkyries, Muire is in love with Strifbjorn, who is not particularly keen on choosing a wife even though he is expected to. Of course, those who have read All the Wind-wracked Stars know that it will only get worse for Muire at the end. Strifbjorn may seem to have it pretty good as a leader loved by his people, but even he is haunted by expectations and past mistakes.

The pacing is somewhat slow since there is a lot of time spent on the world and characters. It’s one of those books in which one is thrust right into the story and may feel a little lost at first. There’s a rare subtlety, and personally I love the fact that Bear treats her readers like they are intelligent people who do not need everything spelled out for them (and as you read more, it becomes much clearer). After reading this novel, I suspect that I’d get more from a reread of All the Wind-wracked Stars, which is another reason I love not being told all the details about everything right up front. All the layers make it far more interesting and a better candidate for reading multiple times.

The language and writing are lovely – it’s not dense but it is still descriptive and packed with emotion. Bear did post some excerpts from the beginning on her blog so I’d suggest anyone who is interested check those out:

By the Mountain Bound is one of those books that appeals to me since it has so many of my favorite story elements – the basis in mythology, the broken characters, the beautiful writing, and the subtlety and layers. It was even more enjoyable than All the Wind-wracked Stars or even any of the other novels I’ve read by Elizabeth Bear, and learning about the events leading up to the previous volume added new depth to it.


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

Other Reviews:

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had any TBR additions, but this week I do have one review copy I received.

The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay

This debut urban fantasy is coming out on Tuesday (November 24). For a while, I was urban fantasied out (especially if it had vampires with the exception of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs) but I read the first four pages and think I’ll be reading this one after I finish the book I’m reading right now. It seemed fast-paced and easy to get drawn into. This is also urban fantasy of the non-vampire variety, so that’s a plus as well.

Tia from Debuts & Reviews will be reviewing it soon and mentioned on Twitter that she is enjoying it so far, and Donna from Fantasy Dreamer’s Ramblings also had good things to say about it.