Should ‘Raybearer’ win a Lodestar Award?

Phew. It feels good to be doing a Hugo related post after so many posts about Narmer and the God Beast. I’m sure there will be more of those to come, but let’s break for a little while and talk about Jordan Ifueko’s incredible debut, Raybearer.

This book is amazing. I hesitate to say a masterpiece because I don’t feel like I’m qualified to make such distinctions (although honestly who cares lol), but it was definitely one of the most exciting books I’ve read in recent memory.

To me, it’s strengths lie in its consistent pacing, unique setting and the sheer power of this book’s main character.

Tarisai is quite literally a sympathy magnet. From page one, it is impossible not to connect with this lonely girl who’s been completely isolated from people her own age and a traditional family. That conflict is built right into the most basic aspect of her identity, her Hollow (unique magical power), which allows her to see other’s memories. This should allow Tarisai to build even closer connections with those around her since she can literally share their experience. Instead, it means that she cannot even be held when she’s sad, for her servants believe that she might accidently steal their memories.

Every conflict in Raybearer seems to stack against Tarisai in this similar manner. At the beginning of the story, her only purpose is to fulfill the last wish of her absent mother (who calls Tarisai ‘Made of Me’ yuck) who wishes that she befriend the crown prince of Aritsar (so he’ll invite her into his council), and then kill him. A purpose for which she must truly love this prince before being able to act out her orders (which of course she doesn’t want to do).

Of course, heroes do hard things, it’s what makes them heroes, but as I was reading the story, I found myself admiring how inventive each new conflict became as the script was flipped again and again on poor Tarisai.

And she truly just keeps doing the damn thing.

I don’t mean to mean to imply that she simply skips through each new challenge (quite the opposite), but the way she is able to continue onward despite everything is truly inspirational. This, perhaps more than anything else is what makes the book such a compelling read.

However, the setting also played a huge roll in my enjoyment of this book. Ifueko creates a rich (sorry just watch this youtuber say how rich the book is real quick) world which seems to draw from many African cultures (though I believe the author mentioned it was mainly Yoruba) yet still presents as unique and immersive.

Some of the more unique aspects of the world for me (which I think could have been explored a little more perhaps) where the magical creatures. We meet sprites, and albagato (a kind of genie type figure), shape shifters and large mythical cats. An entire underworld of spirits which we only just hear a small portion of.

But this is a small gripe, easily overlooked when considering one of my favorite aspects of the world. Its music. Song and rhythm seem to underpin our very understanding of this culture’s history and legacy. Aritsar’s myths and legends (the main one about a story telling Pelican which is weird and fun just on it’s own) are mostly passed on through children’s songs. But one of the key instruments featured in the novel are various drums. Perhaps this is not surprising as drums are important to many African cultures, however, Ifueko took the time to describe their sound — literally write out the noises they made — and the meanings behind each beat.

As a drummer myself, I was simply loving these passages. They felt so true to how the instruments can sound and the passion they can have when played. I’m not sure if Ifueko has any percussion in her background, but she was certainly convincing enough for me (I would also like to note that I listened to this book on audio, and so the voice actor also did an amazing job with these portions and I think really heightened the experience in a way that reading on the page may not have been able to accomplish).

Finally, I think it’s important to note, that this book never seemed to drag. Because of my work schedule picking up, I didn’t have as much time to listen as I have in the past (due to Covid), and so I had to give this book up several times and then wait for it to return. Each time I was as excited as the last to get started again.

This is all the more impressive considering all of the elements packed into this story. Themes such as uniqueness and diversity over homogeny (in culture), colonialism too but it was interesting because it wasn’t like a foreign power coming in that the MC’s need to fight, but instead more like just one group that kept expanding. Perhaps less like the British Empire and more like the expansion of the Mongols.

Anyway, I can feel myself beginning to ramble so I think it’s time to ask that all important question which is the reason we’re here . . .

Lodestar Award?

Yes. It seems I keep having to add this caveat, but as of 10/6/2021, I’m feeling that the Lodestar award should go to Raybearer. This was a hard decision for me, as I’ve already enjoyed two previous Lodestar contenders (Cemetery Boys and A Deadly Education), which were both amazing reads. I really thought Cemetery Boys was going to be my ride or die, but I think the deciding factor ended up coming down Raybearer’s unique setting.

For each of the other reasons I’ve outlined above — great pacing, and an incredibly powerful main character — Raybearer is an excellently written piece of art, but the thing I’m most excited about for the sequel, is simply being able to explore this world a little longer. Cemetery Boys showed us a unique setting as well, and I loved learning more and more about the Brujx. It was fun to think that their world existed just beneath our own. But the sense of immersion you experience into Raybearer’s secondary world shined a bit brighter. I guess I’m just a sucker for Secondary World fantasy . . .

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Should Raybearer win the Lodestar? What were your favorite elements of the story? The world (the answer is the drums! Lol)? Let me know in the comments, I’m excited to see what you all think.

Should ‘Open House on Haunted Hill’ win a Hugo?

This piece is currently my front runner for the short story category. Granted, I’ve only read one other nominee so far (also take a look at the full list of my reviews of Hugo nominated works), but I’m feeling like I generally enjoyed this piece more.

My initial thoughts are that the piece is fun, with a good twist baked right into the premise. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it’s about a haunted house, and not much of a spoiler to reveal that it’s from the house’s POV that we see the story. What makes this story unique, is that the house is a lonely thing, and just wants to HELP a family recover from the death of a loved one.

I’ve been seeing some comments around that say the kid’s characterization is inconsistent, alternating between too childish in some moments, and too adult in others. I didn’t notice this. Kids are surprisingly mature in the moments you least expect them to be so perhaps Wiswell’s characterization is spot on. Regardless, I felt seen by her stomping around the house pretending to be a dinosaur. According to my parents, this was my true-form at four years old as well. It’s nice to see myself represented in fiction.

My only disappointment in the story, is that even though the story uses a haunted house as its subject, it seems strangely disconnected from the long lineage of haunted house stories it purports to be a part of.

The author references Haunting of Hill House in the piece’s author’s note, and the title seems to allude to a 1959 film named House on Haunted Hill (I believe also a kind of parody), but Wiswell’s story seems to have little to do with either. Aside from some rather standard ‘haunted house’ things like creaking floor boards, rooms that shouldn’t exist, and doors slamming shut when no one is around to do so, there isn’t much of the usual tropes and motives we’re used to.

In that same author’s note, Wiswell says:

“I tend to put Horror-y things back out as humorous stories or heartwarming stories. Off the top of my head I gave them the example that if I wrote a haunted house story, it wouldn’t be like Haunting of Hill House

https://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-64a-open-house-on-haunted-hill-by-john-wiswell/

So perhaps, by the author’s own admission, this piece doesn’t purport to be a haunted house story despite the title and the POV.

In which case, Wiswell nails it in the execution. This house is not a repository for unexpiated sin, or the waning relevance of aristocracy, or even a mirror into the horror we find within ourselves. It’s a friend and comforter instead.

The realtor in this story doesn’t really play a large role even though the title seems to connotate the action of a realtor. But just because of the fact that they are there at all, I couldn’t help thinking of Surreal Estate, a TV show in which a group of realtor’s try to prove or disprove hauntings (often solving whatever causes the haunting in the first place) in order to up the sale price of the home. It looks like Wiswell’s story was released just before the show was announced, but it still makes me wonder how our views on haunted houses have changed that we’ve shaped them into these most recent forms which (to my mind) bear a likeness. Perhaps that’s an essay for another day . . .

So . . . Hugo?

Yep! Right now, this is the one to beat. If you haven’t given it a read, I highly recommend.

If you have read it, what are your thoughts? On the the story? On the name? On any of the other properties I mentioned during this review. What really makes a Haunted House in 2021?

See you next time!

Should Harrow the Ninth Win the Hugo?

THIS book. What a ride. Gonna go ahead and announce now that pretty much this entire review is going to be a SPOILER because I’m not sure how to talk about it without doing so. If you’re looking for a quick (spoilerless) opinion on whether or not you should read it, I would say:

Yes. Read it, but don’t drop anything you’re super excited about to do so. There is a lot to appreciate in Harrow the Ninth, but personally, it was a bit of a slog. If you’re expecting to enjoy it for any of the reasons you liked Gideon the Ninth, you will probably be disappointed. Harrow, it seems, goes decidedly her own way (we should expect nothing less).

All of that said, I feel it was worthy of the accolades it’s received, but it probably won’t be my pick for the Best Novel Hugo Award. To explain why, we’ll have to get spoilery . . .

— Entering Spoilerland —

— Look out! —

Ok. Now that I’m done having fun, what’s the deal with this book and how can I think it a slog, but a good enough slog to win an award?

Essentially, Harrow the Ninth is a (mostly) well written book that expects a lot from its readers, and pushes a lot of boundaries all at once. Personally, I feel as if this should have been right up my alley, as I pretty much go all in for things any time they get weird or unexpected. This book did all of that in droves, but I believe it suffered mainly from expectations set up by the first book, Gideon the Ninth.

Gideon the Ninth was a gem which seemingly we all could admire. My review described it as both fun and provoking. Down to its simplest elements, it was a mystery, and an adventure. Start accounting for some of its complexity, and it was a prompt on the nature of abusive relationships and what kinds of things we’re ‘allowed’ to show in our fiction . . .

Harrow, in many ways, left all of that behind for a rumination on grief, loss, and mental health. It traded in a somewhat (enthusiastically) crass but ultimately consistent narration for shifting types of POV (mostly 2nd person, and 3rd person, but some 1st person too) along a non-linear narrative and alternative reality dream sequences. It shattered any trust we had in ourselves as readers to a) remember past events in the story (aka book 1) and b) understand at any given moment what the hell is actually going on.

Too put it simply, reading Harrow the Ninth felt like being gaslit for 400 pages.

This in fact, makes perfect sense for the novel since we’re reading AS a main character who is trying so hard to repress any feelings of grief or loss, that she literally gives herself a lobotomy (I suppose Ianthe helps) to wipe out all memory of what she fears to lose.

That Muir is able to manage this weird sort of readers-are-so-deep-into-the-character-we’re-essentially-method-acting is, from a technical standpoint, quite incredible. And as a writer, I’m in awe and hope that I will someday be able to pull off something half so complicated.

Being gaslit, however, isn’t exactly pleasant, and I found that I was somewhat eager to distract myself from this book, and often reluctant to pick it back up.

So why do so many consider this book so good?

Obviously, it’s impossible to say for sure, but I would point to the following:

Humor:

Considering how serious everything in the Locked Tomb series seems to be, there is a surprising amount of humor within the series. In Harrow the Ninth, it’s often Ianthe’s frank wit (and unapologetically misplaced morals) or Harrow’s general hatred and reluctance for everything that do most of the heavy lifting. We aren’t given any Gideon lines until the last quarter of the book.

Personally, I was most often chuckling at the seemingly normal (and quite frankly bureaucratic) nature of The Necrolord Prime, aka God, aka John.

And of course, the almost nonsensical naming conventions (reminiscent of Ian M. Banks’ Culture Series), which apparently can and do include Eminem lyrics.

For some complexity is beautiful

Reread everything I wrote a little bit ago about the shifting (and unreliable) POV, non-linear narrative, and alternate realities. From a technical standpoint this is amazing to see unfold.

Women Being Badasses

I feel like this is where the rubber meets the road for most people, and is one of the main draws to the series. Harrow the Ninth, as with Gideon the Ninth, is still a story about women who defy expectations. Who want more than whatever bullshit they’ve been given, and are ready to rain hellfire upon the world until they get it.

I think this quote from a Vox interview with Tamsyn Muir really put it in perspective for me (emphasis my own):

“As anybody else who was born in and around 1985 will know, a lot of the stories we got fed, even in a time where women were out in the battlefield more, was that at the end of the day, being angry and fighting actually wasn’t great. And so what the real takeaway at the end of the day was, the love of your friends and hugs is the greatest thing that a woman can have. So being able to repudiate that and give a middle finger to the “a woman’s place is actually the peacemaker and the heart of the group” has undeniably set the tone of the books.”

https://www.vox.com/culture/22266652/tamsyn-muir-interview-locked-tomb-gideon-the-ninth-harrow-the-ninth-vox-book-club

There still isn’t enough of this in fiction, even in this, the year of our lord (necrolord? John?), 2021. We’re still fighting old ways of thinking, and despite all of the confusion of this story’s structure, these characters (Harrow, Gideon, Ianthe) are powerful.

So . . . Should it get the Hugo?

It is certainly worthy of one, but it won’t be my choice. While I can appreciate everything that his book was able to accomplish, I just can’t shake the fact that while reading it, I had almost no desire to complete it. Harrow the Ninth is in many ways a masterpiece, but it wasn’t the one I was led to believe I’d be reading, and the entire time I read it, I was just waiting for it to be different. By the time it started to become the book I wanted (aka when we finally get Gideon back), it felt like my order got lost at a restaurant. The food was cold, and I was already too upset at the wait to enjoy it anyway . . .

Oof, I hate writing negative reviews. If you think I’m wrong about this one (or even if you think I’m right), let me know in the comments section. Also, some things I learned about while writing this review which I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze into the review, but that Muir squeezed into the book:

Coffee Shop / Barista AU
The Denial of Peter
Draco in leather pants
Evil Vizier

Anywho, see you next time. Thanks for reading!

(Book Review of) The Poppy War: Context is Everything

Oooh nice cover. I’m assuming this is Qara? I don’t remember Rin picking up a bow.

Oooof. This was not a light read. But I think perhaps it is an important one. I picked it up because it is the first installment in The Poppy War series by R.F. Kuang which has been nominated for the Hugo Award category ‘Best Series’ (also take a look at the other Hugo Finalists I’ve reviewed).

I didn’t really do much other research into it than that. I vaguely remember when it was nominated for the 2018 Nebula Award and the 2019 World Fantasy Award, but for whatever reason I hadn’t really been following the coverage, and so I didn’t know what to expect.

As such, my blind (and perhaps rather ignorant) first impression of the book was that it was set in a truly intricate (if grim) world which was expertly realized and beautifully written, but the meandering plot was at times confusing and frustrating, mostly when large periods of time would pass mid chapter or without some kind of climatic event that would clue the reader that we were coming to a new phase of the book.

The Fantasy Hive writes that The Poppy War is . . .

“A coming of age epic that leads on to a magic school section of mayhem and mysticism, before spiraling into a grimdark no-holds-barred military fantasy that’d make Sun Tzu roll over in his grave to rewrite The Art of War, with Joe Abercrombie writing the foreword. The Poppy War delivers what most trilogies aspire to – in ONE BOOK.”

https://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2018/11/the-poppy-war-by-r-f-kuang-book-review/

To me, it was too much. As soon as I felt like I was beginning to understand Rin’s struggles at Sinegard (the “magic” school) we were off joining the Cike in a kind of ensemble-style cast which seemed like it was about to set up for a heist, only to be thrown into an all out war which is when the book got exceedingly dark and gruesome.

But through all of this, I think what I was failing to understand, was the context needed to really see what this book was trying to do, namely, use a fantasy setting to explore the violence and brutality of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Opium Wars which followed, and reflect on some of the darkest parts of Chinese history.

(I want to say a quick thank you and shoutout to Read By Tiffany who did a deep dive and explained all of this context in her post: Everything You Need to Know Before You Read The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Truly an amazing post. If you haven’t read it, please do!)

Looking at the book in this light, and with this context, it seems quite remarkable in its achievement. If the book’s motivation was to capture the elements of history I mentioned above, then it really did so in a way that was compelling and interesting.

And so that’s why I feel this book was an important read if not a light one. It got me questioning. At first, those questions were simply: “What is everyone else taking away from this book that I’m not?” But now that I’ve found that answer, it’s become “Well what really happened during that period in history?” or “What is Investiture of the Gods as opposed to Journey to the West?”

With these questions rattling around in my brain, I’m now looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Dragon Republic.

Although, I must admit, I will probably do some more research before continuing on. I’m assuming it can only help.

Anyway, that’s it for the review. If you read this one, please let me know what you thought in the comments. If you haven’t? Well still let me know your thoughts, I’m always up for chatting book things. See you next time!

Should A Deadly Education win the Lodestar Award?

Image of Naomi Novik's A Deadly Education cover
An awesome cover . . . not an awesome pic of my closet

This answer ended up being way harder than I expected it would be . . .

I really thought there was no chance this wouldn’t be my front runner for the Lodestar Award. On May 17th, it was even my ‘Can’t wait to read!’ pick for #WyrdAndWonder, and I was more or less bursting at the seams to tear it open and see what it had in store for me. As I discussed in my Hugo Finalist Reaction post, I had enjoyed Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but was excited that Novik was treading different territory here.

And while my initial reactions were extremely positive, I’m glad I looked around on the internet a bit, because there was a lot I had not yet considered.

Initial Reactions:

Pretty positive in the extreme. The main character, El (short for Galadriel), has an engaging voice, and is fun in her extreme antisocial outlook and behavior. There is plenty of snark, but somehow it never made me bristle like most snarky characters I’ve read.

Second, there’s a lot of pop culture references (like the MC’s name for instance) and winks at the reader. One of my favorite winks was a reference to spell writing as ‘creative writing’ and something about how anything she tried to write stream-of-consciousness turned into a super volcano. Any time I’ve tried to ‘pants’ something in my own writing (or even just write ANYTHING) has certainly felt this way.

I’ve seen the book marketed as “a darker Harry Potter”, and it would be willful ignorance to say that Rowling’s work did not influence A Deadly Education, and I think it’s no stretch to say that the Scholomance is an extreme and interesting (certainly terrifying) take on Hogwarts.

(Indeed, the Scholomance was perhaps this book’s most fascinating element for me, and I’d like to do a second post for Friday about how it reminded me of a kind of evil riff on the educational ideal of the Eudaimonia Machine. Hopefully I’ll have enough to warrant its own post.)

In the realm of theme, I felt the novel had clear and prescient messaging in terms of the dichotomy between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, and I really enjoyed the way this novel actually seemed to have a hopeful outlook on those divisions becoming at the very least, less significant if not disappearing entirely.

In essence, there was much to love in this book and many will find it a complete delight to read. After all, any book that uses the term ‘glom’ to describe how a stepfather attaches to one’s mother is hitting a lot of buttons in the ‘fun’ category.

So What Gives? (Some Other Considerations):

Much like when I was trying to review Gideon the Ninth, I found that this seemingly lovely book also had some controversy swirling around it since it’s publication.

Namely, claims of racist representation (which the author has since apologized for), and also themes of sexual assault which were handled improperly. For both topics, I’m going to provide links as other people have written about them much more eloquently then I every could:

Now, I can’t really say I have much more to offer, except I felt it important to boost these articles as their authors have done some hard work and critical thinking on our behalf. I definitely advise anyone reading this to give them a read and consider their arguments.

It’s been a good reminder for me to slow down and really consider what I’m reading. I hope I can be more aware of stuff like this on my own in the future.

So . . . Should it get the Award?

At this point, I’m going to say that even though there is a lot of things to love about A Deadly Education, the strikes made against it have still managed to lower my opinion of the work in general. I give Novik kudos for attempting to be more diverse with her characters, but I do not think enough work was put in to make that attempt a success.

If the other Lodestar candidates evoke similar positive feelings, but avoid the controversies pointed out by so many online, I will almost certainly raise them above A Deadly Education.

I’m still looking forward to the release of the sequel next month. If Novik can remediate any of the issues this first book had, and keep that same dazzle and fun that it also achieved, perhaps her own education will not have been so deadly after all.

Thanks for reading all this! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Silver Medal for Empire of Gold

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a little while because it’s been hard to bring myself to say that The Empire of Gold is probably the weakest part of this trilogy. I thought The City of Brass was totes badass, and The Kingdom of Copper was brilliant!

But The Empire of Gold just didn’t surpass the bar set by its two amazing predecessors.

Perhaps the main draw (for me) of this series is the intricate and thoroughly magical world which Chakraborty has imagined. It feels new and astonishing, and is equal parts mysterious and delightful. That sense of wonder is only slightly dimmed by the fact that this is our third rodeo in Daevabad. After all, magical djinn, shedu, karkadann, and peri, are never going to fully lose their luster when compared to our real lives of (in the pandemic) Zoom calls and homemade lunches . . .

(I’m also getting slightly distracted by the World of Daevabad website which includes a definition of a creature called Ishtas, which I don’t remember from the book but is apparently “A small, scaled creature obsessed with organization and footwear.” Lolz! Ok back to the review . . .)

This complex and immersive experience has been delivered to us on two previous occasions and it is what we expect from a Daevabad book. I can’t say that the novel fails to deliver on this promise, because it doesn’t. The Empire of Gold is stuffed full of new and exciting bits of this world which are completely unexpected, or have been so thoroughly teased that we’re essentially frothing to find out what they actually are (for me this was the Marid and how this world related to that of Ancient Egypt).

Another key strength of the book, is that all of the cast we’ve come to know and love return, and they too are just as fun and delightful as they have been in previous books in the series. We finally get to see the resolutions of their arcs, and for me, everything came to a satisfying conclusion (which I won’t spoil for you here).

But only a silver medal?

Yep! Despite all of the praise I’ve showered on the book so far, I still felt it suffered from two fatal flaws (which are possibly the same flaw so maybe only one). Namely, this book was TOO LONG, and (in my opinion) failed to fully deliver on its promises (and maybe even over-delivered on a few that were less than relevant). There were many points during this book in which I felt we were making little to no progress towards the main goal of the novel.

I credit the length issue (784 pages and almost 29hrs in audio) to powers that were perhaps beyond the author’s control (although I’ve done no actual research to test my hypothesis). It is pretty standard practice in the Fantasy genre to write in trilogies (although there are plenty of series that go for way longer). I definitely had the sense reading this, that the author knew this was her last chance reveal all the many things she’d hinted at over the previous two books, and so I felt that our characters wandered the map tying up loose ends which in many cases I had forgotten about and did not seem to bring us any further down our main plot thread.

The second issue, that of failed promises, I’m not entirely sure how to quantify or explain. Simply, I was just disappointed in the way certain resolutions took place.

Slight spoilers ahead . . .

I had been waiting for connections to Ancient Egypt (Nahri is from Cairo and grew up in the shadow of pyramids, discovering clues on papyrus scrolls with Ali in the library, mentions of Sobek, an Ancient Egyptian crocodile god . . .) to be made clear and was curious how their vast and intricate culture would be pulled into the mythos of Daevabad, but when it was, I almost wished it had stayed separate. Like the pieces didn’t really fit together somehow.

And while I was so curious about the Marid after reading The Kingdom of Copper, I was disappointed with what we ended up getting. In the previous books, the Marid seemed to have a single nefarious and unknowable purpose, but after meeting no less than three marid ‘gods’, it was quite clear that they were not the grand conspiracy they appeared, and we still had issues in Daevabad which we needed to solve. Basically I grew impatient with our side quest in Ta Ntry (the name of which is suspiciously close to Ta Netjer, which in ancient Egyptian would have translated to “God’s Land”, also called Punt. It’s kinda neat that they are sorta in the same spot on the map, but ultimately, I’m unsure exactly what connection is to be made.)

TLDR and Hugo award considerations:

The Empire of Gold is still a great book, filled with magic and wonder; however, I felt it suffered slightly from its overwhelming scope and (in my opinion) a failure to deliver on it’s most interesting promises. It is somewhat sad that the final book was marred with these flaws, but in general, I’m happy with the ending, and feel this is a great series. I was surprised that this individual volume was not a Hugo Best Novel finalist at first, but after reading it, I can see now how it might not have earned enough votes.

The series is still my top contender for best series though, even with a bit of a flubbed landing. I think I’ll do a Best series post later on if I’m able to finish each of the series on that shortlist.

Thanks all for reading this! Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments!

Should ‘Silver In the Wood’ win Emily Tesh an Astounding Award? (aka best debut) #WyrdAndWonder

A hard question to answer. Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh is a great novella for many reasons.

The first reason, is its up close-and-personal interpretation of the ‘Green man’ myth. Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the folklore surrounding this figure, so I can’t really comment on Tesh’s interpretation.

The impression I have though, using really only this story as a reference point, is that The Green Man is a kind of tree spirit, similar to a Dryad from classical mythology (indeed there is a dryad that follows our main character around and is very protective of him), which protects the forest and keeps out all the bad stuff that wants to come in. However, a few things set our main character apart:

  • he is male and most dryads are female in the book
  • he lives near a big oak tree which might make him something like a Hamadryad but I’m not sure

This sort of mythic existence puts him in a sort of tenuous relationship with the rest of the wood’s inhabitants. At first, humans see him as wild and scary, but ultimately get over it as the story progresses.

Whatever the folklore textbooks have to say, the interpretation written here feels simultaneously personal, and mythic in a way which is really engaging and is probably the first thing I noticed about the book.

I feel this mythic quality is accomplished by the second awesome part about this novella: Tesh’s prose. They’re lovely, and seem to rely on some seemingly impossible phrases (how exactly does time pass “slow and green”) which don’t hang up the reader, but give us our own freedom to imagine their implications. Throughout the entire work, we’re in a place where things don’t quite make sense but are nevertheless mystical and fantastic.

This novella’s final and perhaps most endearing quality is its romance arc. It seems to try and hide itself behind the thickets of legend and worldbuilding, but the reality is that this story does not start until Tobias meets Harry Silver, and can’t end until . . . well I won’t spoil it. Needless to say, it is the thread that pulls us through.

My only gripe, is that I felt like I was left wondering in a few too many places. The story seems to have complex character relationships based on a complex and long history, but I felt like we never got enough of that history to understand why the action we were taking would bring about the end we desired. Even in a scant 100 pages, there was at least two moments in which I wondered why we where seeing something and ultimately felt the scene could have been pruned away.

Astounding Award?

I suppose the answer to this question will ultimately come down to how it stacks up against the competition.

This title is a great read, and there is much to love within this bite-sized package. There is a clever mythology at play here, a genuinely enjoyable romance, and beautiful prose, but I also felt that some key information was missing, while other sections seemed to provide things which weren’t relevant.

Looking back at my review of The Vanished Birds, I seemed to have similar complaints, although I feel it’s longer page count might give it some more leniency than Silver in the Wood. Short works don’t have as much time for extra material. Every word counts.

Micaiah Johnson’s debut is probably still the story I’ve enjoyed most in my Hugo Contender read-through (though I’m not going to look back through all the posts to make sure I didn’t contradict myself). My review of The Space Between Worlds cites strong characters, and a well-developed setting as it’s strong points, and I believe that in these categories, it simply out-performs Silver in the Wood.

No Astounding Award for Tesh this year (in my rankings at least), though I’m sure she’ll contend for other awards in the future. If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’m hoping you’ll still go read Silver in the Wood as it is a great book!

If you have questions comments or gripes, leave em in the comments. Thanks all!

2021 Hugo Award Finalists Reaction Post

The Finalists are Finally here!

So, I know it’s Wednesday, and normally I would have posted another review of something from my prospective Hugo reading list, or perhaps a review of another book I’ve been reading, but this week is different . . .

This week, the finalists for said Hugo Awards were announced, and so I’m gonna do a bit of a reaction post. All of the categories are listed here, but for most of them I will probably have little or nothing to say. I’ll try to let the meatier reactions sift up to the top of the post . . .

Here we go!

Best Novel

For me, this is the most important category. Not to take anything away from any of the other categories, but it’s most interesting to me, because let’s face it, I’m more interested in novels. More interested in reading them, more interested in writing them, more interested in everything I can find out about novels. It’s just where I’m at.

So, what’s my reaction?

Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that I only managed to have read one of the books that actually made the finals. I’ve been playing a little bit of a game with myself every year since I became aware of these awards which is to see how many of the finalists I’ve read when they’re announced, and then judge myself for whatever the number was. I’ve come to consider it a bit of a pulse check to see whether I’m generally inline with the “genre” or not. It’s a bit silly, but I can’t help myself and I’ll probably never stop.

Last year I had already read three of the six books selected (my all-time high score), which to me, seems legit. When I first started playing this game, I was consistently reading zero of the front runners, but I also wasn’t reading a lot of recently published Sci Fi and Fantasy. I’ve tried to change that, and . . . sometimes I fair better than others.

Anywho, this year, the only one I’ve read was Martha Wells’ Network Effect. This is doubly disappointing as I had essentially written this one off in an earlier post. The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, I have at least purchased. It is probably the one I’m looking forward to the most. I also had already purchased Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal.

I’ve read two other books in the Lady Astronaut Universe by Kowal (Calculating Stars, and Fated Sky) and loved them both, but I think I heard somewhere, that the new book does not take place from the point of view of Elma York, the Lady Astronaut. I’ve seen this sort of thing many times before, and Kowal is an excellent writer, so I’m sure I’ll love this book, but I’ve been procrastinating on it because of the main character change, and because of the fact that it’s been quite some time since I read the first two, and I’m wondering if I should do a re-read . . . that will be a game time decision.

I’m pretty excited for Harrow, just because I love the Locked Tomb Universe but given the end (which is all I’ll say), I have a lot of questions going in.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke seems like it will be quite a trip. I’ve never read anything by the author before, so this could be the surprise hit.

I didn’t really like Rebecca Roanhorse’s other Hugo contender, Trail Lightning, but I think I can go into Black Sun with an open mind.

That’s pretty much my reaction for the novel round. Onward!

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

I moved this up to the top of the list because to me, it’s in the same vein as the best novel award category. Apparently, it’s separate from a Hugo, so theoretically, the books in this category could win both which is kinda neat.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik the most. Have read some Novik in the past (Uprooted, and Spinning Silver) and while I enjoyed both of those titles immensely, I’m glad we’re in different territory here. I’ve got the first book in Novik’s Temeraire series on my shelf waiting to be read too. Looks like I have a lot of Novik in my future . . .

Also, very curious about Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. First, it has an excellent cover, and second, I just keep hearing about it.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher, I was thinking of picking up just on the title alone . . . now I have even more incentive.

The others in this category I haven’t heard of, but now is perhaps as good a time as any to familiarize myself with them.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

I’m sneaking this one up to the top too, as I think it’s pretty important. Of the names on this list, Micaiah Johnson is probably who I want to win. I read The Space Between Worlds recently, and actually thought it would be a finalist this year . . . Ooops.

Would also be happy with Simon Jimenez winning for much the same reason. The Vanished Birds was great and (to me) belongs on the finalist list above.

I have read Jenn Lyons’ A Ruin of Kings, and while incredible in scope, and a massive undertaking, I wasn’t quite enthralled enough to continue the series.

Lindsay Ellis I haven’t read yet, but am somewhat familiar with her from her YouTube channel of all things . . . Am excited to read Axiom’s End.

A.K Larkwood (Unspoken Name) and Emily Tesh (Silver in the Wood) are unknown to me at this point but now that I google them, I realize that I have both of their debuts on my shelf . . . awkward . . . Well at least at some point, past me was excited enough about these books to buy them, so I’m gonna trust past me and get hype now.

Best Novella

Novella is probably going to be the next most interesting category for me. I managed to have read (but not reviewed) one title on this list which was Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted. It’s a fantastic story, but I’ll be honest, I’m hoping something else on the list surprises me.

I think the second strongest contender will probably be Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire. I’ve read three other Wayward Children books, and each one seems to be more impressive than the last. I think I’ll need to read two more to get to this one, and I’m pretty excited to start on that journey.

Ring Shout, by P. Djeli Clark is another I’m excited for. I’ve been eyeing his Dead Djinn in Cairo series for quite some time too but that’s not the point of this post.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi, Finna by Nino Cipri, and The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo, I know relatively little about. You’ll notice two of them were on my Novel List so clearly I didn’t even know how long they were . . .

We’ll see.

Best Novelette

Unfortunately, I know almost nothing in this category. I’ve at least heard of Aliette de Bodard. Her Servant of the Underworld has been on my list for quite some time but I haven’t read it yet.

In any case, it will be a fun to try out some new authors!

Best Short Story

This is another category where I’m pretty out of my depth. I’ve read one book and a few short stories by Yoon Ha Lee, but haven’t found anything by them I’ve super enjoyed (although I have high hopes for Dragon Pearl).

Right now, Little Free Library” by Naomi Kritzer is looking the most interesting based off the title alone. We’ll see! . . .

Best Series

Unabashedly, I want The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty to win this category. I’ve recently finished The City of Brass and am almost done with The Kingdom of Copper (to be reviewed on this blog soon!), and I pretty much can’t wait for The Empire of Gold. It’s probably the most I’ve enjoyed a series since the early days when I started Mistborn . . . wow I’ve just had a revelation . . .

Anyway, I will not be disappointed if Wells takes this for the Murderbot Diaries. It’s a long series but definitely one of my favs as of late.

I couldn’t get into Scalzi’s The Interdependency which is surprising, because I have long considered him one of my favorite authors. (you can read some of my past posts on his work like my review of Miniatures and Redshirts . . . and I though I’d written more on him here. Oh well here’s a Scalzi Tag so that future me won’t have to search for posts about him)

Lady Astronaut which I mentioned above is an incredible series . . . I wonder if this would include only the first two books, or the one that is being considered now for novel? Either way, would not be sad to see Kowal win this either.

October Daye (by Seanan McGuire also mentioned earlier) and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang are both series I’ve never read so . . . Can’t say much about them.

Best Related Work

I can’t say I know much of what is up for an award in this category except: Woah! What is George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (Rageblog Edition)

I mean I watched as much of the 2020 Hugo as I could, and it was awkward, and maybe a little off-putting, but wow it sounds like there is a lot to unpack which I missed. I’ll be reading that shortly.

Best Graphic Story

I’m just not a Graphic Novel person. Not yet. Anywho, none of this looks familiar. Not much to say here.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Movies! First impression was surprise to see Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga on the list. I haven’t seen it (but love Will Ferrell so I definitely want to).

Palm Springs will probably be my choice for this. I’m a sucker for “Groundhog’s Day” type storylines, and I felt this one really brought something new to the table.

Soul is probably the one that should take this award just on merit alone. If not for Palm Springs I would vote for it.

Tenet – I’ve been looking for an excuse to just buy this one . . . looks like now I have it.

May still check out Birds of Prey, but I think I sort of missed its moment. Will probably still check it out.

I haven’t heard of The Old Guard yet . . . Maybe that means it’s the sleeper pick haha.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

I’ll be honest, without re-watching these individual episodes, and maybe the whole shows to give them context, I’m not really sure how to make this decision. If She-Ra hasn’t won anything before in this area, I’d say that I would want it to go to that show.

Mandalorian may deserve a prize just for making me feel like I should continue to keep watching Starwars media.

The Good Place is always a fav . . .

I haven’t watched much Doctor Who

Best Editor, Short Form

Some familiar faces here. Neil Clarke, editor of Clarke’s World Magazine is probably the person on this list who’s work I’m most familiar with. Looking at his wikipedia page though, it appears he’s been a nominee for this award 8 times! (wow). Basically every year from 2012 to 2020 with the exception of 2015 . . . impressive. He’s done an amazing job and I would be upset if he doesn’t take home this award in 2021.

Best Editor, Long Form

Sadly, I don’t know any of the Editors on this list . . .

Best Professional Artist

Again, unfamiliar . . .

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is probably my fav short fiction mag in this group. I think it’s last award was in 2017 so . . . maybe time for another?

Strange Horizons is probably the other one I’ve read the most, and has apparently been a finalist every year since 2013. Maybe this will be the year!

Uncanny will also be a strong contender here. I’ve really been reading a lot of them (well what little short fiction I’ve read recently has come from them), so I would not be upset if they take this award either.

I haven’t read FIYAH yet but am anxious to check it out.

Best Fanzine, Best Fancast, Best Fan Writer, Best Fan Artist

I’ve grouped these together for brevity as they are essentially all the same answer . . . Which is that I don’t recognize much here.

Best Video Game

So this is the first year this category has been available, and I was super excited to hear about it being created. I’ve been pretty much glued to my PS4 since this pandemic started and so I thought it might be a good one for me to flex some insight . . .

I have played zero of the games on this list hahah. Animal Crossing is a cultural phenomenon but sadly not one on PS4. Final Fantasy VII Remake seems a little sus in my opinion as it’s a remake . . . I guess since this award hasn’t existed in the past I’ll let it slide (ya know because I have control over these things)

Hades is probably the game on this list I’m most excited to play. Love greek mythology and the gameplay mechanics seem intriguing . . . plus literally everyone I know won’t stop talking about it.

Last of Us Part II is interesting to me for a different reason, namely, story. So far, from what I’ve heard of this game so far, it really brings storytelling in videogames into the realm of literature. I thought this of the most recent God of War game, so I’m anxious to see this happen again with a new title. But . . . I need to play the first one first. I think it’s on sale for $10 right now so I really have no excuse . . .

Ooof I think that’s everything

Wow. We did it! We got through the whole list! This is way too long to proofread and I’ll probably miss the mistakes anyway.

Let me know what stuff you’re most excited for in the comments and thanks for reading this gargantuan post!

Until next time!

Should ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ get a Hugo?

No? Of all the books I’ve read so far on my quest to predict 2021’s Hugo winner this is the book I’ve enjoyed the least.

Now this will perhaps be something of a hot take as this book seems to be universally loved by fans and critics alike. It’s a bestseller in the New York Times, USA Today, National Indie, and Washington Post.

WaPo calls it a “Genre-defying tour de force” in their article: V.E. Schwab delivers another compulsively readable novel with ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’

Gary K. Wolfe over at Locus believes that “. . . most readers will fall in love with Addie as fully as Schwab herself has. And, well, she is pretty cool.(here’s the link to the Locus review)

And there are probably about a million other reviews online from major publications and small blogs like my own that would agree with those sentiments and have come up with their own ways to put their love of Addie into words.

I don’t want to take away from that. Live your joy. I will not try to deny that there was plenty to love in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (in fact, I’m going to start my review by listing the things I did like about the book because I think that is generally more useful, and if you are only gonna read so far you might as well learn about the good things) . . .

But this book wasn’t that for me.

**slight spoilers ahead**

(I’ve never done a spoiler warning on this blog before I don’t think. It was kinda fun!)

Fine, What Were the Good Things?

This quote:

“Freedom is a pair of trousers and a buttoned coat.”

Pg 163 (you know what book we’re talking about)

I was only slightly sad that she didn’t point out the joy of pockets. Now you may say, “What do you know of this? You’re a man.” Indeed, but I have talked to women before and occasionally they talk back. Sooner or later, they all mention pockets.

Needless to say this book is filled with gender commentary like that, whether it be in the little things like the clothes Addie is and isn’t allowed to wear (and what she feels able to get away with since she won’t be remembered), or one of the overarching themes of love and possession (aka abusive relationships). I especially enjoyed the way the book’s bi and queer relationships were in full view of the reader without any subtlety (or apology). They are simply a part of the world, and this is as it should be.

I also thought the main premise was intriguing and put something new (at least to me) on the themes and considerations of immortality.

And of course, the prose are expertly written.

Good. Good.

So what gives?

For me, two things mainly. The first: little or no sense of wonder beyond Addie’s original meeting with The Darkness. And second? Paaaacccciiinnnggg.

For the first, it is useful to think of WaPo’s review of ‘genre-defying’. Typically, this kind of sentiment is seen as an achievement, but I felt that in the case of Addie LaRue (randomly italicized because I thought it sounded like a mystery title), it was the book’s biggest weakness. A music venue in an abandoned subway tunnel is perhaps the most spectacle we get after establishing our MC’s curse.

I wanted more.

For the second, we have these short little chapters, which alternate between past episodes in Addie’s Life, and her “present” in 2014 (it was super interesting to read why Schwab chose to set the novel before 2016). At first, the short and punchy prose make these snippets fly by, and we feel like we’re running through the book instead of reading it. But after 50 such portions (and 3 parts!) we’re only halfway through the novel. I’ll admit, I had started typing up this post at that point, thinking I was going to put the book down.

By the halfway mark, Luc (the villain) didn’t really seem all that consequential. He sort of just shows up randomly which I guess could be stressful on its own but we don’t really have the full context yet though we think we do. We’ve seen a lot of Addie by this point, but all we know is that she’s proud, somewhat selfish, and suffering a whole bunch because of one bad move a long time ago. Whatever is going on with Henry is still a mystery.

Now, all of these things do get wrapped up and threaded together by the end (in a way that I’m still unsure whether or not is satisfying), but here too, we run into the constant stop-start, of these tiny chapters. By the last fifty pages, I just wanted everything to happen already.

Perhaps this is just me though . . .

So Hugo?

I don’t doubt this one will be a contender, but if it makes the finals (which it very well may given how popular the author and this book seem to be), it will not be the one I vote for. I enjoyed the premise and the way the story delivered its messaging, but I was really missing that sense of wonder, and on a more practical point, I almost put the book down because of the pacing . . . if I had then there would have been no chance for me to see all the things I ended up enjoying about the book, and that is definitely a problem.

Thanks all. Hope you found this review useful! Sorry it was a bit of a downer.

Please skin me alive, leave your thoughts in the comments! Until next time . . .