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Monthly Spotlight: Naomi Novik’s Temeraire

One day I will get around to the next spotlight on my planned list, I swear. But last week I picked up the first Temeraire novel and he is the most adorable dragon ever and everyone needs to read these books immediately.

Captain Will Laurence is serving in the Navy during the Napoleonic War when his ship defeats and captures a French vessel that has a dragon egg on board. When it hatches the baby dragon will only accept a harness and a name from him, so he has to leave the Navy to join the Aviation Corps as a dragon rider. For some reason he’s initially not very happy about this, but the dragon – who he names Temeraire after a famous ship – wins him over through sheer cuteness, more or less. Temeraire is very intelligent, and he is incredibly curious about everything, very enthusiastic, and sweetly attached to his rider.

All I knew about these books going in was ‘Napoleonic War with dragons’. Nobody told me how goddamn cute said dragons were. Inevitably for a Fantasyland-esque protagonist there’s a degree of Sueishness – Temeraire is not only a rare breed but the rarest of the rare with all the special things ever, and Laurence easily sees and solves all sorts of problems none of the veteran aviators do – but I don’t care, because dragons.

Novik is a great author with a good eye for detail, and she’s managed to balance the addition of dragons to the war. There are still ships and cannon and everything else, and it all makes sense together; not everything is explained but there aren’t any obvious holes. The rider training is handled more sensibly than a lot of books do it and there’s a decent variety of characters, human and dragon. The dragons feel convincing as well; they’re not just big scaly humans, they don’t necessarily share their riders’ views or values, and there are a lot of different breeds with different abilities and levels of intelligence. Most of them don’t breathe fire but have a nice variety of other skills.

The combat is pretty epic too. Hard not to be excited by fighting taking place on dragonback.

I’ve currently binged my way through the first three and a bit books – there are nine in total. It’s going some very interesting places. Laurence and Temeraire haven’t spent all that much time actually dealing with the war; they’ve been travelling, dealing with various diplomatic issues arising from Temeraire being a Chinese dragon, gifted to France, who was never meant to end up in England, and they’ve seen a lot of other cultures and how they treat their dragons. Abolition is being debated in human society at the time and Temeraire’s getting very interested in the question of dragon rights. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes because I don’t think it’s going to be the predictable and unrealistic fairytale solution that most series would throw out.

Why can’t someone adapt awesome stuff like this for TV instead of producing utter garbage? I saw the trailer for the upcoming His Dark Materials show recently. They’ve clearly rushed to do it on a very, very small budget and it looks awful. Given the great source material it’s surprising nobody’s managed to do anything half decent; this may be the worst attempt yet. And we’re not even going to talk about Game of Thrones. Though I can’t complain too much, Good Omens is coming out at the end of this month and looks amazing.

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Posted by on May 23, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: W R Gingell’s Shards of a Broken Sword

Thanks all for your comments on the post regarding the Harry Potter continuation, I appreciate the understanding.

Another shorter spotlight this month, for a trilogy of shorter books. These are a fairly quick read, but they’re funny and sweet and well plotted. Each of the three stands alone, but there is a core plot winding through them as well that ties it all together – the Fae are slowly beginning to take over human lands, and the broken sword of the title holds the key to banishing them, and various characters come across shards of the blade while enacting their own stories.

In Twelve Days of Faery a young enchantress comes to break the curse on a prince that seriously injures or kills any eligible woman he comes into contact with. The story is told from the point of view of King Markon, the prince’s father; the enchantress, Althea, is probably my favourite of the various characters.

In Fire in the Blood a dragon is bound to help a prince (not the same prince) pass the trials that will let him rescue a princess. I can’t say much else without spoilers but suffice to say things aren’t quite what they seem.

In The First Chill of Autumn we learn what the shards actually mean and what the main plot is, and various characters reunite to help the Chosen Ones attempt to remake the sword and banish the Fae.

W R Gingell has written quite a few other series and standalones, mostly dealing with fairy tales in some way and from the sound of things also some mythology and some modern urban fantasy. I have some of them in my waiting-to-be-read pile, and others I’m sure I’ll get to eventually, because her books are fun and happy and interesting.

In other news, I did a thing! More precisely, an author interview! Someone on fanfiction.net contacted me, they run a SSHG Facebook page and wanted to interview me. If that’s something that interests you, you can find it:

Here: https://relishredshoes.tumblr.com/post/184220751800/interview-taken-from-the-severus-snape-and
here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/199718373383293/
here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/relishredshoes
and here: http://sshg-hub.livejournal.com/129691.html

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: A J Scudiere’s NightShade Forensic Files

Something a little different this month with this modern urban fantasy crime series. I wasn’t originally going to put these in a spotlight; they’re a decent example of the genre and a good read, but I didn’t think they were anything exceptional, until I had two quite strong reactions to certain plot beats. It’s rare for books to catch me like that any more and for that alone they deserve some time to shine.

And really, there is a lot to recommend them.  The author has written a lot of books that I’ll probably end up checking out sooner or later, but we’re focusing on these – Under Dark Skies, Fracture Five, The Atlas Defect, Ember and Echo, Salvage, Garden of Bone, and the upcoming The Camelot Gambit.

The basic premise is an FBI division, NightShade (I admit the capitalisation grates on me a little) staffed by agents with supernatural abilities, though many of the crimes they investigate are completely mundane and ordinary. It’s been done, but this is definitely the best take I’ve read. The author’s background is forensics and biology, and it shows; the detail comes from experience rather than research and it makes it feel natural and real.

The various agents all come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, so discussions of crime scenes and evidence end up being natural-sounding explanations rather than stilted ‘as you know, Bob’ exposition or endless inner monologues. I genuinely felt like I was learning things, which is neat. I’m (hopefully) never going to need to know how to start to identify racial heritage from teeth or estimating age from assorted bones, but you never know when that sort of thing might come in useful.

One of our two main protagonists, Donovan Heath, is a werewolf (except he hates the word) and I was very impressed by the series’ take on them. Every aspect of how he shifts into a wolf is medically explained – in-story Donovan is a medical examiner who primarily went into biology to understand what he was and how it worked. There’s a lot of great science nerdery modelling everything, from elongated shoulder blades and tendons that don’t anchor to quite the same places on various bones to points in his skull where the plates never fused as he grew and the precise way most of his joints are double-jointed, and it makes it feel really plausible. I’ve read a hell of a lot of werewolf fiction over the years and this is definitely the best planned and explained (though there’s a lot to be said for ‘fuck it, it’s magic’ as well).

Our other main protagonist, Eleri Eames, is… well, we’re not completely sure yet, six books in. She’s still learning what she is and what she can do. She’s in NightShade due mostly to supernaturally good hunches, but there’s a lot more to it than that, and her arc is mainly concerned with recurring dreams of her sister who was kidnapped as a child. Recent events are pushing more strongly towards voodoo, and while I’m no expert on the subject, thus far everything seems as well researched and carefully detailed as everything else has been.

There is romance, but shockingly not with each other, and mostly offscreen. It’s actually a nice change of pace. The leads manage to develop a really close bond that is 100% platonic, and there’s very little relationship drama of any kind. What there is feels natural and not overblown and is dealt with sensibly.

Side characters include another werewolf, various flavours of psychic (including one who made me genuinely uncomfortable when her power was explained, the first of the two reactions I mentioned at the start; I was very impressed by the creepiness) and more recently a couple of vanilla but very useful humans. The agent in charge is certainly telekinetic, jury’s still out on what else he can do.

Each book deals with ostensibly separate cases, but they do gradually begin to tie together as the series goes on to form a bigger picture. I’m not sure how it’s going to continue since book six ended with one of the major plot threads being resolved, but I’m interested in finding out, which is always a good sign.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: J Zachary Pike’s The Dark Profit Saga

Once again my planned spotlight for this month was thrown aside due to me being very impressed by something new. The series isn’t finished yet but I’m recommending it anyway; these books are fantastic comic fantasy, and you should read them immediately. They have a very Dark Lord of Derkholm feeling and touches of Pratchett, and really there’s no higher praise than that.

The Dark Profit saga currently comprises two books, Orconomics and Son of a Liche – the titles alone should give you some idea of what the series is like. I’m now waiting impatiently for the third and final book, Dragonfired.

The series is set in a world where DnD-style campaigns are real, essentially – there’s an official Guild of Heroes who operate under licence and the economy depends on a stock market driven by quest speculation and shares of loot tables. It gets as silly as you might expect, but it’s also thoroughly worked out and well plotted rather than just being a joke. Various firms navigating and/or manipulating this market is one of the… four, I would say? main story threads.

The primary story follows our band of protagonist-adventurers; two mages, a ranger, a bard, a cleric, a fighter and a berserker. The party interactions are deliberately reminiscent of someone’s DnD group but it’s not over the top; they’re all developed enough to be people, and we’re given just enough backstory and time in the heads of most of them to understand them without it all being vomited at us. In the first book they undertake a fairly standard quest; in the second book they try to deal with the fallout after it all goes horribly, horribly wrong.

There’s also an undead army with a very strong marketing department holding recruitment drives and forming committees.

Under all the jokes – and they are fantastic jokes; my favourite scene in the series is someone making a veiled dig at the old Lord of the Rings saw about why didn’t they just take the giant eagles to Mordor, and the response is that the giant eagles are unionised and the Heroes’ Guild can’t afford their fees – is an actual serious plot founded in Fantasyland racism. Races in this world are divided into Lightlings – humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes – and Shadowkin – goblins, ogres, orcs, trolls, kobolds, gnolls, gremlins. At the start the Shadowkin are able to apply for NPC status, letting them get jobs in Lightling settlements and giving them papers protecting them from hero attacks, but that’s affecting the money generated from the system, so various factions start doing shady things to stir up conflict. As the story develops we see a few main characters slowly understanding the racism the Shadowkin have endured that they never noticed before, and the message about class privilege is very well done.

There’s also possibly the best pun I’ve ever encountered, regarding a book called the Retconomicon. It’s been a long time since I literally laughed out loud, especially in public.

Really can’t recommend these enough. They can’t quite decide if they want to be satire or if they want to have an actual serious plot, so they do both, and they do it very well.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have Pokemon Generation 8 spoilers to scrutinise very closely.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Ellis Peters’ Cadfael

A belated Happy New Year to you all. This month we’re taking a look at a historical murder mystery series; possibly one of the first, begun in 1977.

There are twenty Cadfael novels, set in Shrewsbury, England, during the 12th century. I’m not generally a big fan of crime novels and mysteries, but I find the historical ones interesting because of the ways characters have to find to solve things without the benefits of modern technology, and this series also benefits from great characters and an enjoyable writing style.

Cadfael is a Benedictine monk and most of the stories take place in and around the Abbey and its grounds. He’s the herbalist and medicine-maker for the monastery and ends up drawn into the various crimes because unlike his fellow monks he came to the life late and has real-world experience to draw on; he was a soldier in one of the many Crusades and thus has some expertise in wounds and much more advanced medical techniques.

He’s a nice cheerful protagonist, with a good balance of cynicism and optimism; he’s curious about the world around him and a very good judge of human nature, and his fellow monks aren’t just bland stereotypes but distinct personalities and they feel like a very real group of people, with all the problems that entails. The various heroes and villains of the books are all well developed (including the women; the whole series is surprisingly progressive and equal considering the setting) and mostly sympathetic, and again all feel very real. There’s a bit of humour running through everything and some clever twists here and there, and according to people far more knowledgeable than I am the whole series is very historically accurate and touches on a lot of real events of the period. Some of the happy endings are a little trite, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The first in the series is A Morbid Taste for Bones; the individual plots all stand alone so it’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, but there are recurring characters and minor plot threads so it’s probably a good idea.


There is a TV adaptation comprising thirteen episodes, though I haven’t managed to see all of them yet. Very sensibly they stuck to adapting the books and made no attempt to write original stories. A lot of the monks are superbly cast, I all but applauded Oswin (the actor plays a very similar character in the British soap Emmerdale) and Jerome and Robert are perfectly irritating and wonderfully punchable, particularly Jerome. Season One’s Hugh Beringar is also good, which makes it hard to like his successors.

Derek Jacobi is a great actor but in my opinion wrong for Cadfael, he’s not humourous enough or peasant enough (and certainly not Welsh enough, Cadfael being Welsh is a minor plot point in several books rather than merely authorial whim), though he did grow on me over time. A lot of the side role actors are really, really bad, though there are some gems who hopefully advanced their careers. (I think a lot of them did, I spent some time thinking ‘Aaargh who is that’ in almost every episode.) Acting aside, the adaptation is fairly good and fairly faithful to the source material, though as ever the books are better and occasionally there are some bizarre leaps away from the original. I’m not sure how easy some of the plots would be to follow without knowledge of the books, though; it’s easy to lose track of who’s who.

There are also a scattering of radio episodes that I haven’t managed to find, and all the books are available on audio.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Wilkie Martin’s Unhuman

Another short one this month, and another new thing rather than an old favourite – we’ll be seeing more lengthy rambles about established obsessions next year, I imagine.

There are four books in the Unhuman series: Inspector Hobbes and the Blood, Inspector Hobbes and the Curse, Inspector Hobbes and the Gold Diggers, and Inspector Hobbes and the Bones. Despite the titles, the inspector is not the protagonist; while he is arguably the main character, the narrative is provided by Andy Caplet, a reporter for the local newspaper who is assigned to shadow a notorious policeman and spends the whole series in a state of complete confusion finding out that absolutely nothing about the world is what he thought it was. The reader will sympathise.

The best way I can think to describe these books is… imagine if P G Wodehouse decided to write urban fantasy. The series has that eccentric and very British whimsy to it, and frequently borders on the farcical. I didn’t realise at first; I was reading an omnibus edition and the blurb provided with it implied that these are more typical paranormal mysteries. Once I figured out what sort of world this actually was and stopped yelling ‘but that wouldn’t happen that way!’ at every page I enjoyed them a hell of a lot. They are very silly, fun reads, perfect for miserable winter afternoons in a comfy chair.

A brief caveat – in my opinion the fourth book wasn’t as good. The series feels like a trilogy with a later book tacked on when it proved to be successful, which never works out. But it was still enjoyable enough.

I don’t have much else to say – if you want a fun way to pass the time for a few hours, you’ll probably enjoy these.

Now for next month: obviously I’m going to be a little busy around the end of December, so there won’t be a spotlight. We’ll pick back up in the new year. And I know I’ve been vaguely promising for a long time but I will also attempt to get back to Chamber of Secrets, before the franchise finally dies a slow and lingering bloody death.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in loten

 

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Monthly Spotlight: Charlie N Holmberg’s Paper Magician

A short one this month, I’ve not been well – The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician and The Master Magician. (There’s a sequel story, The Plastic Magician, in the same world but with different characters; I haven’t got around to it yet but I will someday.) Holmberg has written other things that sound good and that are on my ever-lengthening list, but these were the first of hers I picked up and I was utterly charmed by them.

Our protagonist is Ceony, a young woman recently graduated from magic school and apprenticed to a senior magician. The magic system in these books is original and interesting – every magician bonds to a single element (you can guess three of the possibilities from the titles above but they may well literally be endless) and can only use that single element. Within that apparently narrow restriction Holmberg finds lots of really creative ways for her characters to do some very cool things, which is always a favourite for me where magic is concerned. You wouldn’t think paper was all that useful, but…

I suppose these count as young adult. The setting is carefully unspecified but feels Victorian-ish (I believe the fourth book is set a few years later). I’m not going to say much more because you really should go into these unspoiled if possible. The characters are funny and sweet and the story is clever and they’re just happy, well thought out books. In trying to describe them to Mitchell I said they felt like a fluffier Tamora Pierce, if that helps anyone, though there’s a solid and action-filled plot under the cute.

(…it’s also going to be pretty obvious for anyone who knows me even slightly to pick out why I like them long before the end of the first book. But that’s neither here nor there.)

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in loten

 

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