Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

An interesting book with a very strong, positive, interesting protagonist: Joyeaux Charmand. She’s a Hunter–someone with magical powers in a post-almost the Apocalypse, the Diseray.

Some of the interesting threads that felt reminiscent of other books were the high peaks setting for the Monestary and home. Much like a few recent books about a plague (disease or zombie) restricting people to mountaintops, with the lands below being wasteland, the flatlands are a shattered world. In fact, the backstory of the Diseray feels a lot like the RIFTS backstory–a bunch of bad decisions collided and brought back magic in a wrenching disaster. The disaster was near total–society collapsed and creatures from myth ate just about everything–except for a few enclaves, particularly where the snow remains year round–or where the remaining scraps of humanity rallied behind the Psimonds and early Hunters.

Joyeaux is a teenage girl who is a Hunter, trained in a (to the Capital, Apex) remote and hidden fortress. Very quickly, she’s summoned from the mountain to her Uncle in Apex. There are interesting fish-out-of-water elements (a bit like Katniss going to the Capitol).

What made the book stand apart was the strong internal consistency to Joy’s decision making and experiences. You don’t get flashes of her doing things because it’d be convenient to the plot. The world building also hangs together plausibly–there are a lot of asides about decisions that were quickly made that reflect well on the people who made them.

The magic system hangs together, though it does take the back seat to the Hunter’s Hounds. The hounds are the core of the magic–in fact, we really don’t hear about non-Hunters using magic, and Hunters are defined by their hounds. Hmm… that’ll be something to look forward to; are there magicians who don’t have hounds?

The story is familiar; outsider with strange gifts comes to town, trains alongside her peers, fights outsiders and wins allies and enemies for doing so. There’s an interesting overlay of reality TV; in Apex, each Hunter is filmed and has a personal channel, has to keep their ratings up, etc. It adds an interesting twist, as our poor turnip has to adjust to a thriving city and Hunters by the dozen, navigating a reality star’s life in the camera, plus skullduggery. She does well and we root for her the whole way.

(It looks like Elite: A Hunter novel is the sequel; Amazon has it coming out in September.)

H. G. Wells – Three Novels

The three novels are: The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

The Time Machine was well written and fast paced–like a good Leguin novel, it’s over before you expect. Language was no barrier at all. The story was familiar–I’ve seen it or read it before–but there were a lot of bits that were really engaging.

The War of the Worlds was good but not great–it’s a great idea with good visuals. The everyday of late 19th century Britain was unexpectedly intriguing–it’s interesting to see how it’s written when it’s just background, not the focus of a modern writer looking back. Again, the writing was clear and no barrier.

I’m interested in the radio drama version of this book; it’s a little meandering, and I suspect that the brother chapters could have been better integrated–as it is, they feel tacked on. It was enjoyable as a novel,though less so than The Time Machine.

The Island of Doctor Moreau was a first read, and the first time I encountered it in any real detail. It’s a good book–great for its age–though it feels a bit like a morality play (as Narnia sometimes does). I liked it, but didn’t love it. The book includes deliberate jumps in time, the main character is sympathetic, but mostly a victim of circumstances, rather than a self-directed hero.

Alliance by S. K. Dunstall

This is the sequel to Linesman, picking up shortly after its conclusion. We return to characters that we enjoy–the story is half told from Ean’s POV–but we also meet Selma Kari Wang, who holds up the other half of the book. She’s from Nova Tahiti, a world that left the Gate Union to become a member of the new Alliance.

As the title promises, there’s a lot of more subtle maneuvering and clandestine action, plus politics. Ean’s at a higher level now, so politics is a greater part of his day–though he still has the freedom (and eccentricity) to carve out his own priorities. Similarly, Kari is valuable both for her witness at the start of the novel, but even more for the political maneuvering that surrounds her after she loses her ship.

Despite the slower topics, the book races along. Ean’s still mostly plagued by personal relationships–Rigel returns, kidnappers want to grab him, and he has foreign ships to sing to. Kari faces a daunting first half of the book, recovering from the loss of her legs and ship; her passive resistance and despondency ring true and are well portrayed–she remains a sympathetic POV, not one that you avoid. You don’t begin her chapters with a groan.

While the focus is strongly on the politics, there’s enough investigation into the world–the strangeness of the lines, a potential source of Redmond’s strength, and more. I’m looking forward to the next novel, even though I suspect it’ll be a while.

House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard

Fallen angels run a Paris devastated by magical infighting and colonial wars. The city is a ruined husk, as we see Phillipe (our first POV) running with his gang that hunts recently fallen angels in the ruined streets.

Phillipe and Isabelle are linked by his attack on her, which builds an interesting antagonistic relationship that carries through the book. The two of them are the heart of the story, but two other significant POVs develop, showing different facets of House Silverspire. Madeline is a human POV–not an immortal from the east, not a fallen… but she’s something more than a vanilla human too. She’s an alchemist, but also addicted to angel essence. The last POV is Selene, head of the house. We see the established political currents through her eyes–and the flashbacks to Morningstar’s POV.

The story was well setup, and the conflict rang true, as did the effort the villainous opposition put in to toppling Silverspires. Phillipe was the strongest POV for me, though Madeline was a good anchor for human level concerns–and a great vehicle to introduce Hawthorn, Asmodeous and Samariel.

I suspect I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I read it, for it just didn’t compel or stick. The language it was written with is good, the characters are well drawn, the struggle felt authentic… but it didn’t hold me. Another day, the same book might have been compelling–or, more likely, another novel by this author without fallen angels and their tropes will be right up my alley.

The Heart is Eaten Last by Kameron Hurley

“The Heart is Eaten Last” by Kameron Hurley is a Nyx novella, set between the first two books. Among other things, we meet Kaos.

It’s a fine novella, and I find myself in the same space as ever with Nyx–appreciating her confidence and determination, but sure that we’d never enjoy a drink together. Her sister is subtly drug in and seems reasonable, and the mystery that they’re solving is right up Nyx’s alley.

As always, it’s well written–it feels lived in, not exotic, despite the alien nature of everything. It’s just technology, it just works, you just shout for your bug-people to do it and it gets done. I’ll be interested in turning back to it again and seeing what I think on reread. Unlike most of her novels, this story doesn’t feel like I need a reread to appreciate it–it was enjoyable, almost light in comparison to the novels. Which is a quirky, interesting place to be in Umayma.

Linesman by S.K. Dunstall

A solid and intriguing book; fast paced and far more mystical than I was expecting a book at space engineers to be. The book does a good job of getting us to root for our strange duck engineer, Ean Lambert.

The story begins as a solid everyman hero, Ean, is overworked and backlogged. Ean’s contract is transferred, and in his new role he’s a fish out of water. It’s a tense situation. His new employer is charismatic, which we see reflected both in Ean’s actions (his quick comfort in her presence despite good reason to be mistrustful, and everyone else who comes in contact with her.

Soon Ean’s bumbling through the things a traditional action hero or military type would breeze through. His background becomes more important, worked subtly into the story, explaining why he’s so out of step with his peers. After action, he’s wrung out but usually called on to fix things–it’s never quiet afterward.

As the story goes on, the other characters begin to look to Ean for unusual approaches, and his singing the lines begins to become the multi-tool that makes him incredibly dangerous–and incredibly valuable in his own right.

I liked Ean’s story quite a bit. A second POV was provided: Jordan Rossi, a traditional linesman, but advanced to high up the hierarchy. There are bits of Jordan that we despise, some that we admire, but he’s the stolid fighter to Ean’s flashy bard. He gets things done (in the story, with political influence and his own skill), and gives us a viewpoint character who isn’t Ean to really see how disruptive Ean’s advancements are. He proves secondary in “grabbyness” and interest throughout, but it’s a valuable perspective.

I’m interested in Book 2, Alliance, which just came out. Well done!

Clarkesworld 112

Clarkesworld ISSUE 112, JANUARY 2016.
(I’ll post it now and just update it as I read the stories.)

Quick notes on the stories:
The Algorithms of Value by ROBERT REED was an odd and interesting post scarcity story. Parchment is our POV character; over the course of the story, it turns out that she is rich, somewhat famous, and partially responsible for the state of the world. It’s a world of tremendous abundance, at least in terms of material goods. It’s quirky and offbeat, with flickering reflections about modern marriage.

The Abduction of Europa by E. CATHERINE TOBLER. The story gets off to a strong, engaging start, with a solid grounding… and odd asides about Europa and Zeus of myth. It’s a weird world; the struggle to survive it blends into odd hallucinations and dreams, successfully conveyed by the author. It was interesting, but the characters didn’t grow on me much.

Extraction Request by RICH LARSON

Everybody Loves Charles by BAO SHU

The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale by ROBERT SILVERBERG

Old Paint by MEGAN LINDHOLM