A Confederation of Valor by Tanya Huff

This was originally two books, Valor’s Choice and The Better Part of Valor. They are fast moving military sci-fi, with a great main character and interesting roles. The brief afterward, where the battles are analogized to historical battles, are interesting but kind of suck the wind out of the story’s sails.

I’m eagerly looking forward to checking out the next books in the series. (They’re on request now!)

Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham

A great book. This is a fantasy story with very low key magic. It’s gritty– the world order is based on drug addiction and slavery, with a lot of political scheming and struggle. It feels a lot like GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire, but it has some appealing protagonists, and they don’t all die!

The book does a good job of hopping between interesting scenes and switching among many POV characters. It leads to a somewhat choppy feel; occasionally the focus shifts away just before a dramatic confrontation and when you return it was resolved off screen and a month has gone on. It’s a little jarring at times– you’d ordinarily expect the focus to be on the conflict scenes– but it works. It made me think of a movie with obvious and dramatic cuts and quick story advancement, but it works. And you get the novel’s advantage of stepping into their minds, though I suspect actors could convey many of the thoughts well.

In the end, the contrast between the four children is stark. Corinn’s arc is well handled, as is her eventual decision to continue the dark path of history. Until the final chapter or three I thought it was a solid book and was going to appreciate it as a stand alone. The final scenes reincorporate some of the earlier promises and drive home how the world has reached a new and different equilibrium. It’s unstable, particularly given Mena’s promise Aiken… but that’s why I’ll eagerly look for book two.

Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox

A good book, solidly rooted in a fantasy Asia. The setting has large and subtle effects, and does a great job of kicking you out of “standard fantasy” mode. Jade is important, and more than symbolically, as comes clear as the book advances. The Jade Throne is more than a name…

The POV characters are all clearly drawn with interesting and overlapping storylines. The unlikely rise from fisherwoman to concubine was handled deftly, and the mountain man’s introduction to more complex society is disheartening and impressive by turns. The strange life of a servant and slave is very strange… and sets up the ending well.

This is the first book of Moshui, the Books of Stone and Water– as the final scene makes clear. I’ll keep my eyes out for book two.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

A good, dark book, not quite a children’s book, but closely related. The main character is drawn very well, as is the world he tumbles into. There are a number of interesting similarities to other books; crossing into a fantasy world initially made me think of Narnia, but this world is darkly twisted.

The crooked man is the villain of the piece, and while he’s sometimes over the top, he’s an excellent tempter and driver of plot. Near the end he jarringly becomes somewhat more– but it’s in service to making him and interesting foe. The wearing down of the king, the land’s limited hopes, and the Loups are all great twists.

The book ends with a number of pages still left; he reprints several fairy tales and explains their tie to this book. It’s a nice peek into his thought process, and interesting to read the source stories after seeing what he’s done with them.

Dust by Elizabeth Bear

A very quirky ship with societies filled with interesting roles and rules. This book is primarily the story of two sisters as they are chased and courted by wild AIs, endure attacks and strange threats, and traipse across the ship. The nanotechnology is interesting and very different from most takes I’ve seen; the world is a dark mix of broken and advanced to the point of looking like magic. It never feels like magic, however, which must have been a hard line to walk… it’s always a ship and technology, no matter how advanced. Rien and Perceval’s relationship is quirky but feels appropriately complex. Rien makes an excellent pair of eyes to explore; she’s been so isolated that she provides a great viewpoint for exploration; her amazement matches ours.

While this book is the first book in a series, it feels like a stand alone novel. At the moment, I’m inclined to treat it that way– but it was strongly written, so I may very well continue the series when the sequel comes out later this year.