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Monthly Spotlight: Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence

Shorter one this month, recommending a new thing I just finished reading that impressed me rather than an old favourite. I don’t quite know how to categorise the Craft novels; the setting is a little bit steampunk, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit fantasy and a little bit something else. The basic premise of the world is that it takes place a little way into the future, where water has become the defining resource of the planet and power belongs to the companies who produce and control it – by using local gods for fun and profit, as well as mage lawyers.

(Shoutout to the Something Awful Let’s Play forums for recommending these: they covered one of Gladstone’s interactive text games, Choice of the Deathless by Choice Of Games, which is also set in this universe and lets you explore how the magic system works with your own character.)

The books (so far) are as follows: Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, Last First Snow, Four Roads Cross and The Ruin of Angels. Each one has its own separate plot, but also ties in to each of the others and builds up to an overall story in the way so many authors try for and so few actually manage. The separate protagonists lead separate lives and their paths cross as the series goes on, and it manages to feel natural and plausible rather than being forced for the sake of the plot.

We’re checking all the representation boxes this time – there are a lot of queer and bi characters of different genders, various ethnicities (amongst others, two of the books are set in almost-Mexico and almost-Hawaii), and several trans characters, and it all seems (from my outsider perspective, for whatever that’s worth) to be well done and natural and none of them feel like they’re there just to prove a point. It’s just an inclusive setting in a way you don’t often see.

I can’t say too much without giving away the plot, and these are books you need to experience for yourselves. There’s a lot of detail and a lot of thought and some very clever moments. And interesting magic, of course. The Craft is powered by starlight, and blood, and gods, and other stuff depending on who’s using it. There’s necromancy, religious/clerical magic, your good old-fashioned raining fireballs, some neat dimensional stuff – something for everyone, with a healthy pile of humour on top.

Turns out Max himself says it better than I can. From his website:

The God Wars ended, and we’re living with the world they left.

I write the Craft Sequence series of books and games, set in a postindustrial (and post-war) fantasyland, where black magic is big business, wizards wear pinstriped suits and conduct necromantic procedures on dead gods, and day-to-day commerce rests on people trading pieces of their souls for goods and services. The Craft Sequence books are legal thrillers about faith, or religious thrillers about law and finance. Plus there are hive-mind police forces, poet gargoyles, brainwashing golems, nightmare telegraphs, surprisingly pleasant demons, worldshattering magic, environmental devastation, and that deepest and darkest evil: student loans.

Have fun. I did.

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Posted by on July 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Raymond E Feist’s The Riftwar Cycle

We’re back in the realm of very long medieval-fantasy series this month. The Riftwar Cycle comprises 30 books of varying length, broken down into various trilogies, duologies and quartets, most – but not all – set on the world of Midkemia. Some of them stand alone, others really need to be read in some sort of order. Feist has only written two books outside this cycle, a standalone called Faerie Tale and the beginning of a new series called King of Ashes; I haven’t read either of those.

Credit to my brother for first introducing me to these books, many years ago.

The key to these books is that there’s something for everyone. There’s magic – the magic system isn’t as developed as some, but it’s there and there are different types and different users. There are battles, and politics, and dragons, and dwarves, and elves, and goblins, and gods, and demons. They move along briskly, too – no long loving descriptions of every bit of scenery here, it’s almost all action. We have a variety of protagonist characters with distinct personalities. If you’re not keen on one arc, you’ll like the preceeding or following ones.

Let’s begin. This is going to be another long post, with so many volumes to cover. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Tamora Pierce

something something Harry Potter soon mumble mumble

This month we’re looking at Tamora Pierce, a rather underrated young adult author who seems less well known now than she was when I started reading her stuff aged twelve or so. In many ways she is the first ‘young adult’ author, I suppose; her first book was published in 1983 and nobody was quite sure how to categorise it. Which caused a few issues, as we’ll see later. She’s known for decent female protagonists (before the world and his wife started throwing around the term ‘strong female character’) and for addressing everyday practical concerns such as menstruation and birth control.

Her books mostly consist of quartets following individual characters, and are set in one of two fantasy worlds, Tortall and Emelan. I’ve talked to a lot of her fans over the years, and without exception it seems that the ones you read first are the ones you like best. It has to be said that one of the reasons for this is probably because there are quite a few similarities in character and storyline between the two, but more on that later. Since I read Tortall first and Mitchell has only read Emelan so far [I did read the Alanna quartet also, just not the rest of them yet], you get both of us rambling at you this month. I’ll let him go first, under the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels

Eventually there will be posts aside from these, I swear. As ever, life gets in the way. Neither of us are dead though.

This month’s post was going to be a different author that we both will have a lot to say about, but being the clever person I am, I left it so late in the month that I decided it’s better to postpone that and make sure it’s a decent post. So instead we’re going to talk about the three Farseer trilogies by Robin Hobb. (For once I’m breaking one of my rules for this series; I haven’t actually finished the final trilogy yet.)

[Mitchell here. Unfortunately I’m going to have to be quiet this month (please try to hide your sighs of relief), as I haven’t read these. They sound like something I’d enjoy and I want to get to them at some point, but I have no idea when that will be.]

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Posted by on April 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time

This month we’re going to look at some epic fantasy. The Wheel of Time turns throughout fifteen monstrously huge books (well, fourteen and one shorter prequel novel) that make the A Song of Ice and Fire books look like novellas in magazines. Seriously, I could kill someone with one of the hardbacks without much effort. The first eleven were written by James Oliver Rigney Jr, also known as Robert Jordan; after his death the series was finished by Brandon Sanderson. Mitchell gets to have some input this time too. Cut for length, though this is nowhere near as long as the Pratchett post.

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Posted by on March 27, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Georgette Heyer

Initially I planned to cover something else this month. I was going to tackle another big fantasy series, but after last month I didn’t want to do that. Then I was going to look at a Young Adult author, but I’ve just got hold of her latest book and want to wait until I’ve finished it. So instead this month’s spotlight is the author I’m currently reading, who I suspect many of you won’t have heard of.

Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is one of the main reasons Regency romances exist, essentially, though she wrote across other genres as well. (In particular she’s written some mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties that I want to read once I’ve finally finished the Regencies, as well as various novels from much earlier in history.) Her Regency novels are pretty similar to Jane Austen, but 1) with a lot more detail and context, since Austen was writing for an audience who already knew the setting whereas Heyer had to explain it for her readers; worldbuilding! Very well done worldbuilding, too; Heyer was a real historian. And 2) straight up funnier.

Because these books are funny. Not necessarily laugh-out-loud, the way Pratchett’s are, but – well, I’ve created a new tag; ‘books to make you smile’. I would say charming if that didn’t sound so patronising. They’re real feel-good books; her characters are warm and funny and often slightly absurd. And the romances are usually surprisingly healthy, remarkably so given the time they’re set in and the time they were written. Not always, but so far I’d say easily a 95% success rate as far as I’m concerned. There’s always an actual plot above and beyond the romance, ranging from the mundane to the surprisingly action-packed; it’s often easy to work out the end of the story, but usually not how it gets there.

These books make me happy to read them, it’s as simple as that. I owe my mother and my grandmother an apology, since they both separately recommended Heyer to me many years ago and I only recently finally got around to them. I doubt you’ll find physical copies very easily, but they’re all on Kindle and presumably other e-readers.

My grandmother always particularly recommended Arabella; my mother’s favourite was The Convenient Marriage. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and would also urge you to look out for False Colours, The Unknown Ajax, Frederica, The Quiet Gentleman and The Nonesuch in particular. Though honestly, all of them have been wonderful (with the slight exception of the Alistair-Audley trilogy, since I didn’t particularly like the characters).

In other news, I am currently rejoicing that Cormoran Strike: Career of Evil is going to air this week and I don’t have to watch it. Also I’m sure nobody is surprised that the next HP post is going to be a while yet.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Sir Terry Pratchett

Once a month, I pick something from my bookshelves and talk about it. There’s no better choice to kick off this series than the work of my favourite author of all time, Sir Terry Pratchett. This post is going to be insanely long because there’s just so much to talk about – no future spotlight is even going to get close.

Mostly I’ll be focusing on the Discworld series, easily his best-known books – 36 adult novels and 5 young-adult novels (broken down into character arcs), plus 4 science-based novellas, TV adaptations, animated adaptations, plays, music, computer games, diaries… you can see why this is going to be a long post. Before jumping into that, I’m going to talk briefly about his non-Discworld books, under the cut.

[Mitchell here. I don’t have a lot to add, as I unfortunately haven’t read a lot of Pratchett’s work. He was a thoroughly admirable human being and brilliant writer, and I’ve appreciated what I did read of his. I have issues with depression and I’ve found that interferes with my enjoyment of the humour: I tended to notice in the abstract that it was clever and I should be laughing without actually reacting, so I’ve been putting them off until I’m in a better mental place to experience them. That’s not going to stop me from seconding the recommendation, though, his books are great.]

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Posted by on January 25, 2018 in loten

 

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