[Book Review] More history in my tsar and dragon novel, please.

Tsar DragonsBook Review: The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Canaries, you know those times when all you need to see is the cover, and you know (you know) the book is meant for you. Well, this was one of those. I was absolutely charmed by this cover.

Then I read the premise: Russian Revolution + Dragons? Yes, please. Sign me up.

And damn, for how good its premise and cover were, this novella came up so oddly short.

If you’re a fan of Russian history like me, you’ll be disappointed by the odd misses and factual inaccuracies. If you’re here for the dragons, you might be satisfied, but they’re not quite a driving force of the story. And if you’re there for the story and characters as reimagined by Jane Yolen and her son and co-author Adam Stemple, you might get distracted and bogged down in anti-semitic, sexist,  racist (take your pick of –isms) bits of the narration. It’s used to color the stories and perspectives of the characters, fine, but it sure didn’t make for a pleasant read.

In fact, when I started reading, my first impression from the heavy antisemitism was that this was going to be a sort of political satire on the time period—truth through dark humor and exaggeration, and there was definitely that in the first person narrator. But it never stayed over the top enough for that to work, and never felt tasteful enough to be cutting. And by the final third of the book, we were looking at a full on tragedy with the style and tone to match.

Now, I’m probably not the average reader for this – I know my Russian history and culture, and the big miss for me was just that. Yolen brought her masterful style, and the last few scenes were brutally powerful (though they had nothing on the actual account of the end of the Romanovs; Yolen and Stemple admitted to gentling that ending. Check out Michael Farquhar’s Secret Life of Tsars for a great historical look.).

But did the story work overall? I don’t know, canaries. I couldn’t see past the things that didn’t.

My Rating: One star.

I’m looking forward to seeing more reviews to see how other folks who aren’t as into Russian history take to the story. In the meantime, mileage may vary!

Canaries, what’s your favorite non-western historical novel? Would it be improved with dragons?

Review copy generously provided by the publisher.

 

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[Book Review] Consulting sorceress and alternate universes

LetterBook Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

I’m a bit of a Sherlock alt-canon completionism. If it’s a Sherlock Holmes-inspired story, I’ll read (or watch) it. So after a long hiatus from NetGalley, of course The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall was the first thing I requested.

Imagine this: Consulting sorceress Shaharazad Haas (Sherlock) and ex-special military John Wyndham (Watson) end up as flatmates in a crazy world of necromancers, aliens, vampires, and alternate universes. Haas’ ex-flame needs her help; she’s being blackmailed to break off her engagement, and who best to get to the bottom of it all but the world’s foremost consulting sorceress?

It’s a clever take on the Sherlock story, with the narrative “written” by Wyndham (Watson) as if for a weekly serial in a magazine in John’s world. Because it takes manuscript form, littered with dry asides aimed at Wyndham’s editor, the story gets to use some excellent foreshadowing: how does Haas (eventually) die, who of the many characters we encounter ends up being Wyndham’s husband…and so on.

But wait, you ask, does this mean you liked the book?

No, not really. But if the ratings are anything to go by, it seems most folks are loving it. So first, the positive! Here are a couple reasons you might dig The Affair of the Mysterious Letter:

  • Man, this universe. It’s a vast, expansive world in which all gods, magic, and science exist simultaneously, realities overlap, and magic powers can be arbitrary and limitless.
  • All the callbacks. Fans of Sherlock will enjoy the many nods to the original. There’s a superbly fun take on Mrs. Hudson (Ms. Hive, in this universe).
  • Representation! The easy, full acceptance of different gender identities and relationships in this world: Haas’ has romantic entanglements with the most dangerous of ladies, adventuress Viola’s engagement to the charming Miss Beck is the crux of the mystery, and there’s that casual blink-and-you-missed-it mention that Wyndham grew up female…
  • Wyndham is the best. Speaking of Wyndham, he’s the unquestionable star of this book. I came for the Sherlock sorceress, but stayed for Wyndham’s formal (yet) amusingly prudish, wit and dry style. In fact, much like in my recent reading of the (unrelated) The Rook, I fell in love with and wanted to hear more about our narrator’s past self and adventures.

Okay, so that seems pretty great. What’s the catch?

Well, the catch is that the character Haas was (unintentionally?) the worst.

See, the thing is, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter relies on you to know the Sherlock world. In that world, of course John and Sherlock (Wyndham and Haas, in this case) would bond immediately. Of course Haas has a charming, magnetic personality that transforms Wyndham’s life and makes him willing to risk life, sanity and reputation.

Unfortunately, because the story accepts these as given, it never shows the moments that built the foundation on which the characters then interact and go off adventuring. Taken as a standalone novel, Haas and Wyndham’s relationship comes across as rather one-sided and abusive, from Haas endlessly belittling Wyndham, to Wyndham ending up doing Haas’ laundry.

As a consulting Sorceress, Haas researches, consults on sorcery, and occasionally helps friends with cases by threatening (and killing?) people until they tell her what she wants to know. This isn’t a great look.

Without that core relationship, the rest of the story struggles. This book is lucky to be standing on the shoulders of canon, so if character dynamics are your jam, proceed with caution.

But if you’re here for a crazy world with backdrop of a posh historical (Victorian meets Mardi-Gras meets Venice) style sensibility, this could be your next favorite read.

Rating: Five stars for concept and style, two for characters and story.

 

Canaries, have you read this book?
What did you think?

 

Review copy generously provided by the publisher.

 

Book Watching: Yeah, these aren’t happening.

Book Watching

Are these shows even happening?

We’re being skeptical canaries about the chances of these being made anytime soon.

The Fifth Season TV Show

fifthseasonI first heard murmurs in 2017 that N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season was being adapted for TV by TNT, shortly after I finished the book (five stars, all the way). And then things went quiet. Real quiet.

As networks start looking around for the next “Game of Thrones” epic fantasy success, this could be a contender. Then again, part of the power of this novel was its three interlinked but non-chronological timelines, making this a harder post-GOT sell than the more linear Wheel of Time or Lord of the Rings.

Likelihood of being made? Until I hear different, I’m downgrading this adaptation to “Unlikely.”

The Dark Tower TV Show

dark tower.jpg

If you had asked me last month, I’d have given this show a negative 5% chance of being made. Between the source material—a first book that reads like someone telling you about their half-forgotten, meandering dream—and the fact that even Idris Elba couldn’t save the 2017 movie adaptation from it’s 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating, I was a skeptical canary.  But, apparently, an origin story reboot is in the works, thanks to a push for content by Amazon.

Showrunner Glen Mazzar (The Walking Dead) is on board, along with actors Sam Strike (Nightflyers) and Jasper Pääkkönen (BlacKkKlansman) who will play Roland and The Man in Black respectively.

Likelihood of being made? Yep, it’s being made.

Continue reading

Book Watching: Do we need another Lord of the Rings? (Also: Game of Thrones & Narnia?)

Book Watching

This week, I got movie adaptation of fantasy classics on my mind. Here’s the latest on The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and The Chronicles Narnia

 

Lord of the Rings (Prequel)

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Welp, canaries. We’d pretty much come to terms that we wouldn’t be getting any more Tolkien adaptations from Warner. What with the Tolkien estate all but saying that they’d rather set their entire archive on fire before letting Warner Bros get their mitts on any more properties. (No, they didn’t actually say that, but they probably thought it.) Then, just last month, they went and disavowed Disney’s Tolkien biopic in no uncertain terms.

So the ball has been bounced over the Amazon who came in stage right and dropped $250 million to get the rights make a Lord of the Rings prequel series (like, thousands of years before The Hobbit) with an option for spinoffs. It’s early days, but with Amazon pouring in a gazillion dollars and filming scheduled for August, I’m gonna call it a done deal. We’re getting a prequel.

Though, to be honest, canaries, I just can’t seem to work up an appetite. After the exhausting slog that was the Battle of the Five Armies, do we really need more Lord of the Rings? And with the time jump going way back thousands of years to the second age, does it even matter than it’s Tolkien’s universe?

Writers J.D. Payne and and Patrick McKay (whose only IMDB credit so far is Star Trek Beyond)  are attached to the show so far. So there’s that.

Release Date: Meh. 2020?

Game of Thrones (Prequel)

GoT.jpg

Remember when Breaking Bad was the show to watch? Then it ended and got a critically acclaimed prequel spinoff that no one really talks about at the office cooler? And then there’s the’s Fear the Walking Dead that, dispite mixed reviews is still going strong towards a fifth season.

So yeah, there’s clearly a market for spinoffs.

Continue reading

This month in the mine shaft: May

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  • Nightmare Ink by Marcella Burnard ★★☆☆☆
  • Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks ★★☆☆☆
  • The Invisible Library Series ★★★★★
    • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
    • The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
    • The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman
    • The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
    • The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman
  • Working Stiff by Rachel Caine ★★★★☆
  • Legion Series ★★★★★
    • Legion by Brandon Sanderson
    • Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
    • Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson
  • Innkeeper Chronicles ★★★☆☆
    • Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
    • Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews
    • One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews
  • Alex Craft Series ★★★☆☆
    • Grave Witch by Kalayna Price
    • Grave Dance by Kalayna Price
    • Grave Memory by Kalayna Price

 

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(But what’s this, two novels with the same title? Stay tuned for a battle of the Night Lives and their goth protagonists.)

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Book Watching

Onward to June! What’s on your to-read list?

 

 

[Book Review] In which I re-evaluate my bias against magic libraries

 

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Canaries, this is the book I was looking for when I had my ill-fated encounter with The Eyre Affair in 2017 and swore off all book-themed fantasy novels. Little did I know that The Invisible Library was out there.

Two years later, here I am, eating my words. Fantasy books about books can be excellent.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (and the rest of the series) combines the high stakes of a spy thriller with the shenannigans of fantasy novel, populated with colorful characters, an intriguing and competent main lead, and several series level mysteries that kept me hooked. Continue reading

Book Watching: This Golden Compass trailer is everything

Book Watching

Oh my. Canaries, this trailer is everything I could have asked for from a Golden Compass/His Dark Materials TV show adaptation.

His Dark Materials

Last month, we were twittering our excitement about this show’s star lineup (Logan‘s Dafne Keen as Lyra? Yes please.), and this month we got a treat. The trailer for Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials adaptation is out!

We’re so ready for this show.

Don’t fail us now, HBO.

Release Date: Sometime “later this year.” And we can’t wait.

How excited are you about this adaptation?