[Book Review] Politics the cyberpunk way

infomocracyBook Review: Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older

I got this for the cover, I stayed for the story.

It’s been a while since the science fiction genre surprised me with something new. Enter Infomocracy, a thought experiment in the concept of democracy, corporate power, and human nature. And, so you don’t think this is a political treatise, there are other things too, like explosions, anarchists, a paranoid operative, and campaign spies. Continue reading

[Book Review] Urban fantasy, race politics, and werewolves

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Let’s talk urban fantasy.

“Too often in UF we get lip service to the idea of discrimination (or racism or sexism). If you look at the popular series, however, there is no in-depth analysis of it. Anita Blake, Elena, and Kitty are all non-human and are segregated out of the human society because of what they are, yet in their books we mostly see them functioning in a society where they are not the minority. Anita has (or had) one strict human friend, Elena had one human boyfriend, who she dumped, and Kitty has her family, but the werewolves and vampires get more play. The characters who are supposedly outsiders are actually part of the in-group of the novel. In those novels, in terms of characters, strict humans are the minority, and very rarely do central characters behave as if they have been effected by an -ism; they might have to hide, but outright discrimination doesn’t really seem to occur or should it, like in Kitty Takes a Holiday, it lacks depth.” (Chris from Goodreads)

I couldn’t have laid it out better myself, so I didn’t try. Chris was the Goodreads review angel who said Benighted by Kit Whitfield was different in its representation of “otherness.” I was convinced me to give the book a chance – and man, am I glad I did.

Since I finished it, it has skyrocketed to my short list of top reads, and is one of the few books I’ve reread. But before I get more into that, the plot:

In Benighted, being wholly human is a recessive gene. When the full moon rises, ninety-nine percent of the human population humans transform into lunes (werewolves), mindless, ferocious animals, wrecking havoc if left to their own devices. Those few born unable to change are the minority – often viewed with disgust and hostility for their disability.

Lola Galley is a veteran of the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activities, an organization staffed by non-lunes that monitors the city during the full moon and is tasked with keeping order and capturing the lunes who break the law to roam free on full-moon nights. When Lola’s friend is attacked by a lune, and then murdered before the attacker can be brought to justice, Lola finds herself on the trail of a deadly conspiracy. Continue reading

[Book Review] Snake Agent – best book ever.

Once every blue reading moon there comes a book that renews my faith in a genre. Snake Agent by Liz Williams is that book.

“Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department’s snake agent – the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. Chen has several problems: in addition to colleagues who don’t trust him and his mystical ways, a patron goddess whom he has offended and a demonic wife who’s tired of staying home alone, he’s been paired with one of Hell’s own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, to investigate the illegal trade in souls.

Political pressures both Earthly and otherworldly seek to block their investigations at every turn. As a plot involving both Singapore Three’s industrial elite and Hell’s own Ministry of Epidemics is revealed, it becomes apparent that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.”

– description from Goodreads

Gorgeous cover.

Isn’t the old cover gorgeous?

Oh man. Where do I start? I’m gonna try to write a coherent review, but this all would be so much easier if I could just fill the page with heart gifs and exclamation marks. Continue reading

[Advance Book Review] Charming by Elliott James

Advance Book Review:

Charming by Elliott James

Book 1 of the Pax Arcana

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

“I know John Charming is an unfortunate name.

Believe me, I’ve heard them all. No, I’ve never been turned into a frog. No, I haven’t slain many dragons lately. How could I? They’ve been hibernating close to the Earth’s core for over a thousand years. No, I don’t have any unusual shoe fetishes, glass slipper or otherwise. No my kisses won’t bring women out of any comas, though I hope they might perk them up a little.

But make no mistake: the reason there are so many stories about “prince” Charming is that there was never one man – the Charmings were an entire family line standing between humanity and all others for generation after generation, and in the old days it was common to give any monster killer in a story royal status. That is a heavy burden, but I carried my name proudly for as long as I was able. And I am still that man. No matter what else is in my DNA, no matter what my old order says, no matter what titles have been stripped from me or how long I am force to run and hide…I am still that man.

I think.”

– Excerpt on page 3 of Charming, or also known as the-first-sign-I-was-falling-in-love-with-John-Charming,-and-Elliott-James’-narrative-voice.

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Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this is paranormal romance. Charming by Elliott James is an urban fantasy adventure with a hardcore main character, plenty of action, and a fun James-Bond-esque romantic subplot. John Charming is a fugitive, hiding from his family of secret society monster hunters and trying to keep a low profile working at a local bar when a leggy blond walks into his bar, smelling like something non-human and followed by a hungry vampire. Suddenly, John is forced to stay in town to investigate a series of murders, and way too many people know his real name.

John Charming’s witty narrative voice reminds me of all my favorite male detective leads (think Harry Dresden, Jack Winter…) while putting his own, unique stamp on the page. More that that, It blows my mind when a story convinces me that its protagonist is old. I can count the number of so-called looking-like-they’re-in-their-twenties immortals in Urban Fantasy who actually come across as “immortal” on the fingers of one hand – and Elliott James pulls it off in John Charming.  It doesn’t hurt that John has a tragic, tortured past and plenty of reasons to angst (in a fun-to-read way) over his demons.

The romance is lightly woven into the book, even as its integral to the final plot implosion at the end of the novel. You don’t get a lot of it, but it’s pretty darn great to see how Elliot James handles the romantic elements between Sig and Charming, and each scene sticks out – for those of you reading or those who will-have-read the book when you see this review, isn’t the chili bowl scene the best? It’s dramatic without being melodramatic, and in this genre, that’s a breath of fresh air.

And then the world-building, oh the world-building. It’s enough to make me fall in love the book all over again. Amidst the usual cast of oblivious humans, murderous vampires, and grim-eyed monster-hunters, you get the backdrop of an ancient elven eugenics program, secret societies of knights bound against their will to police the supernatural, and creatures from all sorts of cultures from around the world. I loved it.

Charming takes its time laying out the details and rules of this world, but I don’t begrudge a single minute spent on it, thanks to the protagonist badass attitude and delightfully sarcastic voice. Mileage may vary, though. From my quick glance at the chatter on goodreads, it looks like the battle lines for the stars are drawn over whether there’s too much worlddumping, or just that perfect, delicious amount.

You might also have noticed that Kevin Hearne, author of a series about an immortal druid on the run from pissed off Celtic deities, did the blurb on the cover.  And if you’re a fan of Hearne’s books, good news! You’ll immediately spot some of the surface parallels – a long-lived main character hunted by his own people as he tries to make his own, lone-wolf way in the world. And if you aren’t a fan of Hearne’s Iron Druid series, even better news!  In Charming, James pulls off a lot of what I didn’t like in the Iron Druid (frenetic romance, youthful voice, rushed action) , and makes it work in the fugitive-hero storyline. The action and romance is a fun, rollicking ride without ever going off the rails into crazyland.

This debut novel just might be the next big voice of urban fantasy.

Review copy courtesy of  Orbit Books/Hachette Book Group & Netgalley.

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[Book Review] Romance on the lam

Book Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga, #15)(Vorkosigan Saga #15)

I can’t believe it’s been fifteen books already. Here is the latest installment in this military space opera series, following Ivan Vorpatril. In the past, Ivan has played the Watson to the series protagonist Miles’ Sherlock Holmes. But with Captin Vorpatril’s Alliance, it’s his turn to get his very own book.

Captain Ivan Vorpatril, confirmed bachelor, is happy as an admiral’s aide on an easy assignment, far from the politicking of the empire. On the other side of town, Tej Arqua and the exotic blue-skinned Rish are on the run, assassins on their heels and a price on their heads.

And of course, Tej and Rish’s troubles soon become Ivan’s very big and inconvenient problem. 

Bujold does it again – the novel is a rollercoaster of plots and resolutions, all with the humor and wit we’ve come to expect and love in her Miles’ series. I wasn’t very keen on reading a book from Ivan’s point of view (he’d never really struck me as an exciting character), but man, was I wrong. Ivan is great. He’s my favorite. I want more books about Ivan.  Continue reading

[Book Review] That is one hard-to-kill hero

Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion (Chalion, #1)What’s better than reading a book? Well, reading an awesome book.

What’s better than reading an awesome book? Reading an awesome book with a friend.

Kat and I teamed up and threw ourselves into Bujold’s first book in the Chalion series, The Curse of Chalion. I don’t know about Kat, but I fell in love with Cazaril, the book’s main character, almost from page 1.

Once a commander of a fortress under siege and a loyal man in the royal service, Cazaril has had his spirit and body broken in the slave galleys. Making his way home on across the country on foot, all he wants is a small household where he can quietly live out there rest of his life, far from the politics of the capital and the enemies who want him dead.

But when he returns to Chalion, he is swept back into the world of conniving nobility and the blighted royal court of Cardegoss, charged with serving as the tutor-secretary to Iselle, the clear-eyed sister to the heir to the throne. As enemies circle and a curse over the house of Chalion gnaws away at the royal family, Cazaril finds himself the only man standing between his young charge and the abyss. Continue reading

[Advanced Book Review] Pantomime by Laura Lam

Pantomime by Laura Lam

Publication date: Feb 5 2013

I can’t even talk about this book. Every time I try to write this review, I immediately go into fits of sputtering rage. The whole story hinges on a single twist, one that, if revealed, ruins the gut punch of the book. But the twist is also what makes the such an unexpected and utter joy to read. I have never read a hero like that presented in Pantomime. And it’s left me positively aching for more.

This is where I would talk about the book, but I pretty much can’t. No plot, no characters, nothing. I’ve never been so utterly vexed by a review before. I’ve also never felt so compelled to not talk about a twist in a story before, because I can’t stand the idea of ruining it for even one person. (Except Canary the First, who never gets the privilege of spoiler warnings.) So I’m just going to drop the official blurb in here so that I don’t slip up and reveal anything myself: Continue reading