The Snow Queen
by Joan D. Vinge
448pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.08/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.92/5

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge won the Hugo Award in 1981 and was also nominated for a Nebula Award. This science fiction novel was followed by a shorter novel, World’s End, which is the story of what happened to BZ Gundhalinu after the first novel ended. The Summer Queen is the direct sequel to The Snow Queen and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1992. The most recent novel set in this universe, Tangled Up In Blue, is a stand-alone about BZ Gundhalinu that takes place during the earlier part of The Snow Queen. Unfortunately, The Snow Queen and World’s End are both out of print now.

The story of The Snow Queen is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale sharing the same title. The planet Tiamat is divided into two peoples, the Winters and the Summers. For about 150 years, the Stargate to other worlds remains open and during this time Tiamat is ruled by a Winter Queen. Once the gate closes and the foreigners leave, the Winter Queen is removed in favor of a Summer Queen. The Winters enjoy the technological benefits of the offworlders who visit during their time in power, but the Summers are a more spiritual people who do not share the Winters’ interest in technology and are considered to be a rather primitive people by the Winters.

The reign of the Winter Queen, Arienrhod, is drawing to an end after 150 years during which she has been kept young by the “water of life.” Reluctant to lose her important position, Arienrhod secretly had several clones created and raised as Summers in the hopes that one will survive and succeed her as queen. Only one of these doubles grows up to be a possibility for Arienrhod’s successor, Moon Dawntreader Summer.

Moon and her cousin Sparks grew up together – and grew to love each other. Ever since they were young, Moon and Sparks have dreamed of becoming sybils, whom the Summers respect for their ability to enter into a trance and answer questions posed to them truly. While Moon passes the test, Sparks does not which causes a rift between them, particularly as it is known that to love a sybil is death. Sparks leaves for the Winter town of Carbuncle where Arienrhod rules, and once the queen hears that her clone’s cousin is there, she uses him to draw Moon near. Yet her plan goes awry and Moon ends up leaving the world behind – and leaving both Arienrhod and Sparks to turn to each other while mourning her loss. However, Moon learns some important truths offworld and feels it is her destiny to return to Tiamat.

The Snow Queen was not only my favorite book read in 2009 but is now one of my absolute favorite books I have ever read. It was a little slow at times, especially toward the beginning, but the way it all came together later made me feel even the slower parts added a lot. The world of Tiamat and the characters were both fascinating, and some of the scenes toward the end were so bittersweet and haunting that they will be sticking with me for a long time to come.

This is a difficult book for me to talk about without spoilers since the second half is where it began taking off and tying everything together so nicely. There’s not anything I can think of that I didn’t like about it since even the parts that seemed to drag a little when I first read them seemed important to me later – I don’t think it would have been the same without them. I loved the writing, the characters, the story, the romance and the social structure of the planet Tiamat.

If there was one flaw I saw, it may be that Moon seemed too perfect – everyone seemed to love her, she showed kindness to those she had every reason to hate, she was beautiful, she never stopped caring for Sparks even when he could be a bit of a jerk, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a sybil and she attained special knowledge. None of this mattered to me, though, and I even thought it worked with her character when it came to seeing how she was so similar yet so different from Arienrhod. They both had some shared traits but Moon was so innocent while the older queen was manipulative. It made me wonder if young Arienrhod was more like Moon and what that means for Moon’s future.

Other than Moon, there were other characters who had their time in the limelight and I enjoyed reading about every single one of them. At first, I found myself wanting to just read about Moon or Arienrhod and wondered why there was time spent with some of the other characters, but by the end I found I couldn’t imagine the book without each and every one of them as all of their stories affected me.

Tiamat itself was such a wonderful place to visit and was very well-developed without being full of dull descriptions. I really enjoyed reading about the divide between the Summers and Winters, the sybils and how they were viewed by the two different peoples and the discovery of what sybils were as well as the revelation about the source of the water of life.

The Snow Queen is a wonderful science fiction book with a well-realized setting and culture, great characters I came to really sympathize with, lovely writing and some memorable scenes. It’s one of those rare books that I just love and wouldn’t change in the least. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Summer Queen and more by Joan D. Vinge.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: My husband gave me a signed copy for Christmas.

This was a pretty good week for books. Also, I’m almost to the point where I can start reviewing books read in 2010, which makes me happy since that means I’m closer to caught up with reviews than I have been since before the holidays. Right now I have one review about halfway written that I am hoping to put up tomorrow and after that there are only two more to go (with another book almost finished, but three is not too far behind, especially with more recently read books).

Now on to books received this week.

The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge

My very favorite book read last year ended up being the last book I read in 2009, The Snow Queen, so of course I had to order the sequel soon after reading it. I read part of the first chapter and cannot wait to read it although I have told myself I cannot until I have reviewed The Snow Queen (which I’m working on a review of now). This is one I will definitely need to read sometime in the near future even if it is so massive it will probably take me forever to do so.

Salt of the Air by Vera Nazarian

Since I ordered The Summer Queen, I got another book so I could get free shipping. Normally I don’t buy short story collections, but I do have a soft spot for fairy tales and couldn’t resist when I saw this had some, including a retelling of my favorite “Beauty and the Beast.” Also, I really like Vera Nazarian’s writing style. Plus it includes “Lore of Rainbow,” which is set in the same world as Lords of Rainbow, the novel I read by this author (and loved).

Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

This was another unexpected ARC, and one I was very excited to receive – I’ll definitely be reading this anthology. It includes a new Dunk and Egg story set in the same world as George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” plus stories by many other authors such as Robin Hobb, Peter S. Beagle, Naomi Novik, Diana Gabaldon, David Weber, Carrie Vaughn, Tad Williams and Robert Silverberg. It will be released on March 16.

Sea Dragon Heir by Storm Constantine

This is the first book in “The Chronicles of Magravandias” trilogy. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that a friend and I made a deal to read each other’s three favorite books from last year in 2010. She sent me the ones I didn’t already have and this was one of them. It was her very favorite from last year (well, actually I think the third book in this series was but that’s not really a good starting point) so I’m supposed to read it sometime by the end of February. Even though I loved Constantine’s Wraeththu books and really liked her short story collection The Oracle Lips, I must admit I’m actually a bit nervous about reading this one. I’ve heard it is one of her weaker books and the reviews for it are very mixed.

Busted Flush
edited by George R. R. Martin
464pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.2/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.56/5

Busted Flush is the second book in a new Wild Cards trilogy edited by George R.R. Martin, following Inside Straight (review). Suicide Kings, the third book in this set and the twentieth Wild Cards book, was released in hardcover last month. Even though I haven’t read any of the books other than this one and its predecessor, I found Inside Straight a decent starting point (I think it did help that I knew the general premise of the universe; otherwise I may have been confused). It felt like the beginning of a series, although with both that book and this one I did get the impression that there were some characters and events referenced that were from earlier books. Since Inside Straight introduces all the characters and their current situation, I would definitely recommend reading that one before Busted Flush.

The Wild Cards books are set in a different version of our world in which an alien virus killed most people, disfigured others and gave a small percentage superpowers. They are mosaic novels written by several different authors. Busted Flush was written by Melinda M. Snodgrass, Caroline Spector, Carrie Vaughn, Walton Simons, Ian Tregillis, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Victor Milan, Stephen Leigh, and John Jos. Miller.

Busted Flush picks up after the first season of American Hero and the formation of the Committee, largely made up of contestants from the reality television show. The Committee was created so those with power could use their abilities to make a difference, and they are called to aid with three occurrences throughout the world – a hurricane in New Orleans, rumors of genocide in Africa and an oil shortage caused by Prince Siraj in the Middle East. Meanwhile, many of them must contend with their own personal problems and some dissension among the ranks due to the work of a double agent.

This review has been a bit tough for me to do, mostly just because I had the hardest time writing a plot description. Since there were so many different characters and storylines, I found it really hard to write a spoiler-free synopsis, especially since the main plot didn’t really take off for a little bit (which isn’t to say the first part was dull because it was not). The plot description still doesn’t really say as much as I want it to, but considering I’ve been working on this review off and on for over a month and a half, I guess it will have to do.

This book was more about the characters than Inside Straight, which I rather liked, particularly since the main character whose story was intertwined throughout the rest in this one was very interesting to read about. Melinda Snodgrass wrote the story of Noel, a hermaphrodite who could teleport. (His mother chose to raise him as a boy so Noel is referred to as a male.) During the day, Noel could turn into a man who supposedly worked for Prince Siraj and by night he could turn into Lilith, a woman who supposedly worked for the Committee. Noel’s true loyalty is to the Silver Helix, though. His life is pretty complicated, as he also is a magician and a son dealing with his father’s impending death from an illness. In Inside Straight, I didn’t feel like I got a good idea of who Noel really was, but this book made him my very favorite character in the series so far and the sections about him were the ones I most looked forward to. He was complex and his character’s development throughout this book was very well done. By the end, he had definitely changed from the person he was at the very beginning.

Although Noel was my favorite, there were others I enjoyed reading about as well. I love Ana and Kate and the close friendship they developed in the first book and Michelle with her compassion. Two of the new characters, a woman named Niobe and a ten-year-old boy named Drake, were also enjoyable to read about. Niobe’s ability was both a blessing and a curse to her, and Drake’s was powerful but more of a curse than anything.

The other highlight is the superpowers, especially those which require some sort of sacrifice from the person with the ability. One woman, a healer, had to undergo some horrific circumstances in order to actually exercise her power. I don’t want to give away the specifics, but it’s a definitely a lot more extreme than feeling tired after healing someone else. Michelle, a former supermodel, has to allow herself to carry a massive amount of weight in order to use her superpower. Some of the powers are straightforward, such as Ana’s ability to manipulate earth, but the most interesting ones are the ones that have some sort of check in place to keep them from being too powerful or require some sort of choice by the person with the power.

Like most books of this nature, there were some stories I enjoyed less than others. There were some slow parts and some characters I don’t find as compelling as many of the others, such as Drummer Boy. Like its predecessor, I felt this book wasn’t as good toward the end as the rest of it was, although overall I thought this one was just slightly better mainly due to Noel.

Busted Flush is another fun addition to the Wild Cards series with some very intriguing characters, situations and superpowers. I am looking forward to finding out how the series ends, although I will be waiting for the paperback edition to do so.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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

Reviews of related books:

This past weekend my husband and I were looking for multiplayer Xbox and downloaded Trivial Pursuit. One of the questions prompted us to find this rather hilarious old video of Leonard Nimoy singing “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” on Youtube. Sadly, I had this song in my head all yesterday afternoon (it was particularly tragic since the only part I remembered was “Biiiiiiilbo” and it kept repeating over and over and over again).

This is a day late since I was out for a while yesterday and never ended up on the computer for very long. Last week I received two surprise review copies.

Beneath the Skin by Adrian Phoenix

The third book in The Maker’s Song about vampire rock star Dante Baptiste came out at the end of December. Since there are two other books in the series that I don’t have, I most likely will not be reading it. I did read a review of the first two books over at The Book Smugglers recently, and these don’t really sound enough like my type of books for me to track down the previous novels.

Master of None by Sonya Bateman

This novel actually doesn’t have a cover on Amazon yet although there is one on Sonya Bateman’s website. It’s also an urban fantasy about an unlucky thief and a djinn. The release date is March 30th and it is the start of a new series. Since it doesn’t require I track down more books to read and it sounds as though it may be humorous, I might give this one a try.

Ascendant Sun
by Catherine Asaro
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.81/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.9/5

Ascendant Sun is the fifth novel published in Catherine Asaro’s Saga of the Skolian Empire series. Currently, there are thirteen novels total in this science fiction series and chronologically Ascendant Sun comes after five other novels in the saga (it is not really sixth chronologically since there are three other novels following different characters set around the same time as this one). I would not recommend beginning with this book which is a direct sequel to The Last Hawk, the first book about the character Kelric. Although I think The Last Hawk is a decent starting point for the series, I do think it is a good idea to read Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (in that order) before reading Ascendant Sun or you will miss a lot of what is going on due to Kelric’s rather limited perspective.

Please note that Ascendant Sun begins soon after The Last Hawk ends, which means there will be spoilers for the previous book in the plot description. If you do not want to know what happened, skip down to the horizontal line, which marks the end of the plot description.

After spending eighteen years on the planet Coba, Kelric returns to the Skolian Empire only to find it greatly changed. The Skolian web has collapsed, Aristos are openly walking around, his parents are being held in protective custody, and many of his family members are now dead including his brother Kurj and two of his Imperial heirs. Kelric realizes he is now the only surviving Imperial heir but decides it is best not to reveal he is in fact alive due to the current political situation. Yet Kelric himself is dying and needs money and better medical facilities than are available nearby in order to be healed.

After receiving some care at a clinic Kelric is at least well enough to manage for a little while, although he will still die if not treated. He finds a job to earn some money and is later approached by a man who can pay him a great deal of money. However, this high-paying job requires that he travel to a place he’d really rather avoid – Eubian space. In spite of the risk of capture, Kelric accepts since he realizes he just might have a chance to do some good for Skolia.

So far I have read four of the books in this series in addition to this one – Primary Inversion, The Radiant Seas, Skyfall and The Last Hawk. Ascendant Sun is easily my least favorite book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire so far. All the other books were absorbing and difficult to put down, but I actually found this one difficult to get into and outright boring in a lot of places. There were certainly some great parts, but a lot of times I found myself reading this one just to get to the end instead of because I was enjoying it.

One of the reasons Ascendant Sun was disappointing was the incredible amount of infodump. The first couple of chapters covered the events in The Radiant Seas and there was also a lot of explanation about the empire in general and what occurred in The Last Hawk. It was probably intended to be accessible to readers even without being familiar with the other books in the series, but personally I don’t think this book works well on its own at all anyway. The main moments I found satisfying were ones that I would not have cared about were I unfamiliar with some of the other characters and what had happened in Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. It was emotionally satisfying to read certain scenes because I had been following the plight of these characters.

All the explanations certainly slowed the book down, but that aside, it also just seemed a lot slower paced and less interesting than the other books although I’m not entirely sure what it is about it that kept me from being interested in what was happening at times. At first, I thought it was because it was mainly about Kelric and didn’t carry on the main story, but I quickly realized that couldn’t be the case. My favorite of the books, The Last Hawk, was all about Kelric and had far less to do with the other books in the series I’ve read so far on its own (although I suspect it will be important to the overall story arc just because of how it affected Kelric). Perhaps it is because for a while it seemed to be following a similar pattern as The Last Hawk but was missing the compelling setting and secondary characters (although there was one new character that I liked).

In spite of its failure to completely capture me to the same extent as the other books, it was not all bad. Kelric is still a character I enjoy reading about with his intelligence and introspective nature. There were a couple of interesting revelations from Kelric’s time spent among the Eubians, and I do enjoy how Asaro manages to make a people with the need to torture others sympathetic and human – not good by any means, but many of them don’t seem completely bad either. Two parts near the end also had me so excited I could have jumped up and down (if I had no dignity, that is) – not because they were surprising but just because it was so fulfilling to see them finally happen.

Although it is not the strongest book in the series, Ascendant Sun is not a waste of time for fans of the series who have read at least The Last Hawk, Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. There is a lot of explanation and slow parts to get through, but there are also some occurrences that are very rewarding to read about.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of related books (in chronological order):