What initially attracted me to this book was its absolutely gorgeous cover, reasonably interesting-sounding description, and decent reviews. Unfortunately, it didn't work for me, and I ended up spending maybe two months slogging through it.
I wasn't a huge fan of English's writing. It was a little too flowery for my tastes and featured a massive overuse of adverbs. I became very tired of the words “rather” and “quite.” It felt like one or the other of them was used on every single page.
I also became very tired of all the fantasy names – this, from someone who cut her teeth on fantasy. There were weird, almost Lewis Carroll-like names for everything, and I wasn't always sure they were necessary. I didn't need constant reminders that Draykon was set in a fantasy world. “Nivvens” could easily have been called “horses.” The same goes for many of the other things that had real-world equivalents. In some cases, the fantasy names were a little confusing. I couldn't read “whurthag” without imagining a warthog, although I'm pretty sure whurthags had more in common with big cats or other large predators.
I could have put up with English's writing, however, if either the story or characters had grabbed me. That didn't happen. I liked Eva well enough, but I actively disliked Llandry. Whereas Eva was older (maybe in her forties?), competent, and usually had a good head on her shoulders (except for a few blips involving Tren), Llandry was young (20) and appeared to suffer from To Stupid To Live Syndrome. Yes, I know, she had crippling social anxiety and parents that were maybe a little too overprotective. Even so, I didn't think that completely excused her behavior. Even after she found out people were being killed for having istore, she kept a little piece of it around. She followed after Devary like a puppy, despite the fact that any idiot could see she'd only slow him down. I couldn't understand why he wasn't more angry with her when he learned she'd been following him. I mean, he was on a secret mission to deliver the last known piece of istore to someone who might be able to find out more about it. Llandry was well-known as the discoverer of istore. Having Llandry around was practically like having a giant neon sign saying “you'll probably find some istore here!”
I couldn't decide whether English was trying to set up a future romantic subplot between Llandry and Devary or not. On the one hand, Llandry seemed to have a crush on Devary, even though I don't think she realized it. On the other hand, Devary's behavior towards Llandry felt more like that of an indulgent family member than a potential love interest – not surprising, since he was an old friend of Llandry's mother. At any rate, there was absolutely zero chemistry between Devary and Llandry, and I do hope that was intentional.
Draykon's story didn't grab me any more than its characters did. I think it could have, if maybe 100 pages had been edited out. The occasional interesting event would happen, and then there'd be pages and pages that didn't seem to accomplish much of anything. It felt like most of the book happened in the last 60 or so pages.
The story became a little more interesting to me near the end, and part of me wants to know what happens next in the series. However, I'm not nearly hooked enough to buy and slog through the next book, if it's as much of a drag to get through as this one was.
The book includes a color map of the seven realms and a glossary.
(Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2012/11/draykon-e-book-by-charlotte-e-english.html)
After finishing The Sixth Discipline, I wanted to try something else by Buxton but didn't feel ready to read the book's sequel, No Safe Haven. I spent some time looking through descriptions, and Tribes sounded like it had one of the biggest things that appealed to me about The Sixth Discipline: an exploration of a fascinating sci-fi/fantasy culture. I was also intrigued by the bit about Jahnsi being from a fighting tribe.
The cultural stuff did turn out to be really interesting. I liked finding out how everything worked, from the planet's justice system, to tribal badges, to the service every tribe member was required to do. While I found the world interesting as a whole, I particularly enjoyed the little details that showed how the tribal system affected the way native Mariposans thought and behaved. For example, Jahnsi thought of LuAnne as “the Mingo” because, to Jahnsi, a person's surname is their tribe. Also, their tribal name automatically tells others what their gender is. It wasn't necessary to specify that someone was female if you said they were a Han-Lin, so the idea that a Mingo could be male or female seemed odd to Jahnsi.
Speaking of Jahnsi, I liked her. As a Han-Lin, she knew how to fight, but she wasn't a dark, gritty warrior heroine. I think that, to her, fighting was often just a job. She was very practical about it. There was always a risk of getting hurt, but she was experienced enough that she had a fairly realistic idea of what her risks were. There was one part where she decided to take on a job involving a dispute over an order of uniforms that weren't the right color. She viewed the job as a good, fairly low-risk way to earn money, because it was only going to involve hand-to-hand combat. Hob, on the other hand, was much more worried about the possibility she might get hurt.
While I wouldn't call this book a sci-fi romance, it did have some romance it in. I thought Jahnsi and Hob's relationship moved at tad fast. Hob had spent his entire life as a slave, and a good chunk of that time as a sex slave. Because the drugs the other slaves were given didn't work on him, he was fully aware of everything he was made to do. Granted, Jahnsi was different – she forced nothing on him. I still thought things went a little more quickly and smoothly between them than they should have. They were a couple after maybe eleven days (or less?). LuAnne and Forest's relationship also started fairly quickly, but it was more believable to me because neither one of them had gone through the lifetime of abuse that Hob had gone through.
I spent much of the book very curious about what would happen once LuAnne found Hob. Would he be willing to go to his aunt? Would he be forced to go if he wasn't? What was going to happen between him and Jahnsi? I absolutely did not expect what did happen, not even with the hints (like Hob's brain implant) that there was a little more to the situation than just an aunt looking for her long-lost nephew. I wasn't really happy with the way things developed. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but...well, it felt a little Borg-like and creepy. And the romance-loving part of me was disappointed by the ending. I suppose some people might feel that things end on a positive note for Jahnsi and Hob, but I had serious doubts that their relationship was going to last long, since there was already strong evidence that Hob felt the duties of his new life took precedence over his own wishes. I could easily imagine his aunt forcing him into an arranged marriage, and I seriously doubt Jahnsi would be willing to stand by and be his mistress. LuAnne and Forest's relationship was actually more satisfying to me than Jahnsi and Hob's – an unusual feeling for me, since I tend to identify more with younger couples in books than older ones.
Hmm, what else? This is a bit spoiler-y, but I loved that Andre Ortega got what was coming to him. He was horrible. Also, I was not a fan of the number of times (two, I think?) that Hob had his ability to make choices for himself taken away from him by people he should have been able to trust. Especially considering his history as a slave, he didn't hold this against those people for nearly as long as I thought he should have. And, ugh, Jahnsi's reaction after she found out the shocker that was the identity of one of Hob's former customers. Hob didn't deserve that, although at least she realized pretty quickly she was out of line.
All in all, Buxton's turning out to be a good author for me when I need a "interesting sci-fi culture" fix. Her characters sometimes act in ways that make me rage at them, but I still get a decent-to-good read overall.
(Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/03/tribes-e-book-by-carmen-webster-buxton.html)
The descriptions I've seen on Goodreads and Smashwords all led me to believe that this story would focus more on the bonding process between Shadia and Feef, one of the pets Shadia regularly took care of. That didn't turn out to be the case. While the descriptions of the various pets and their individual characteristics and needs were really interesting, not much attention was paid to any one pet, at least until the disaster. Shadia didn't seem any closer to Feef than she was to Gite or any of the other pets.
For me, this story was so-so. It was too brief to do much more than scratch the surface of anything. Shadia, a loner, is rarely shown interacting with anyone. A short paragraph described some of the gifts her clients gave her, and I found myself wishing that the story had continued, even just a bit, past the ending. I wanted to see her begin to make connections with others more. I felt like I barely got to know her, any of the pets, the space station, and the other residents of the station.
(Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/04/feefs-house-e-short-story-by-doranna.html)
This was different from Durgin's usual stuff. No animals, and kind of dark. Maybe darkly humorous?
Augie was not a sympathetic character. To me, he seemed to be the sort who grasped at “get rich quick” schemes and thought himself clever for doing so. He didn't bother to get the LitEd (reading) education that his workplace offered because he didn't feel it was necessary. Also, he resented those who were educated and didn't want to become like them – he didn't realize it, but he judged educated people just as much as he believed they judged him.
The ending was clever and tied in several things that had previously been mentioned – even the story's title served as a clue. If I had to name one complaint about the story, it would probably be that what the pills truly did was kind of...silly? That's probably not the best word for it. These pills were supposed to be future tech, but they did something that people could easily do right now if it weren't for the politics and ethical concerns. The future tech...wasn't.
Anyway, I thought Durgin did well with the short story format and wasn't left feeling that Fountane Of should have been longer.
(Originally posted on http://familiardiversions.blogspot.com/2013/04/fountane-of-e-short-story-by-doranna.html)
This is one of the two books I read and finished during my vacation. I remember being annoyed by several aspects of it while I was reading it, but my overall feelings upon finishing were more “meh” than rage-y. However, organizing my notes in order to write this review really highlighted for me just how many things I disliked about this book.
I suppose I'll talk about the good aspects first and ease into the rest. I downloaded this because it was free and because the “Kdrama” bit in the series title caught my eye. In the end, the most prominent K-drama-related aspects were the italicized bits at the beginning of every chapter, which featured Casey and her friends talking as they watched K-dramas. K-drama titles were rarely (never?) used, but, even with my limited experience, I think I was able to identify a few of them. I wish Mae had included some kind of guide at the end that identified specific shows referred to in the book, but, even without definitive answers, it was still fun trying to guess them.
Casey's “voice” was relatively likable, despite the fact that she occasionally said things that made me raise an eyebrow. For example, I thought it was more than a bit hypocritical to state that she didn't support game piracy but did think it was okay for her and her friends to get bootleg K-dramas. Her reasoning was that K-dramas are hard or impossible to find in America, which made me immediately check to see when this was published: 2012. While I think legal, English-subtitled DVDs may still be somewhat difficult to get, I know of several legal sources of streaming K-dramas. Dramafever, for example, went live in 2009.
The romance aspect of the book was incredibly bland. There were really only two obstacles between Casey and David: David's girlfriend and Casey's supposed lack of attractiveness. The issue of David's girlfriend was essentially dealt with 9% into the book, as David mentioned that he felt Shannon was too high maintenance. It was inevitable that he would break up with her. As far as Casey's attractiveness went, David seemed to like her right from the get-go.
The problem was that Casey was an Unhappy Fat Person. One of her best friends commented disapprovingly about Casey's choice of pizza over her own choice of grilled chicken salad without dressing. She referred to herself as a "dumpy slob" who was four sizes heavier than she used to be a few years ago. Her status as an Unhappy Fat Person essentially cost her a promotion – she didn't have the self-confidence and enthusiasm her boss was looking for. Even though Casey's boss never mentioned her weight, Casey's self-confidence and enthusiasm plummeted around the same time she gained weight. Plus, Casey herself brought her weight to my mind by mentioning that her boss was "supermodel thin" and basically the exact opposite of her in every way.
It wasn't until later in the book that further context was given. Casey became depressed after her boyfriend moved out, moved away, and dumped her in a note he left behind. She no longer enjoyed running, and she stopped doing all the healthy living stuff her boyfriend had convinced her to start doing. I initially expected the romance to develop either after Casey lost weight and started eating healthy again, or while she was in the process of doing those things, so it was a surprise when David showed clear signs of interest only a quarter of the way into the book. Had she not doubted her own attractiveness (because Unhappy Fat Person), the two of them might have gotten together much sooner.
Casey never did go back to the lifestyle she had while dating her old boyfriend, but she did get back into running. It was framed as her getting back into doing something she enjoyed rather than as an activity she was doing in order to lose weight, which was nice. On the minus side, although weight loss was never mentioned in numbers, one of her friends did comment that she was gaining some attractive “curves” and asked her if she was dieting. Also, Casey and David didn't have sex until after this weight loss, so there was still an element of “sex and romance are for thinner heroines only.”
Whereas the Unhappy Fat Person stuff wasn't in the book's description and took me by surprise (if that's supposed to be Casey on the cover, she doesn't look much like a "dumpy slob" to me), I suspected right from the start that I might have problems with the whole “half-Korean hottie” aspect. The book could have benefited from chapters or sections from David's perspective, or more scenes involving David and his mother, anything to make him seem more like a complete human being. Because that, combined with some of what Casey and her friends said in the italicized bits at the beginning of each chapter, made it seem like David's biggest draw for Casey was that he half-Korean and good-looking. On-page interaction with David was generally pretty superficial. His mother came by maybe once, and of course she and Casey instantly got along because Casey liked the Korean food she'd brought and they both liked K-dramas. Again, just superficial stuff. There wasn't much detail about David's family life, his work, his goals, anything.
This is one of those times when the process of writing a review for a book might have actually lowered my opinion of it. At any rate, there are currently two more books in this series, but I have no plans to continue on.
At the end of the book, there's a note from the author about Korean dramas.
(Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
I found this book to be kind of slow-paced, but still decent. The main thing keeping me from buying the sequel, No Safe Haven, is residual anger at Ran-Del and, to a certain extent, Francesca. More on that below.
In the first third of the book, readers learn about city dweller and Sansoussy culture through the eyes of characters who know as little as they do. Although Ran-Del has been kidnapped, Stefan wants him to come to like living in the city, so he's perfectly willing to answer whatever questions Ran-Del may have. Then, when Francesca stays briefly with Ran-Del's people, she gets to ask basic questions about Sansoussy life. I appreciated that neither city dweller life nor Sansoussy life was depicted as wholly “good” or “bad,” although it seemed like the book paid more attention to the nitty gritty details of Sansoussy life than it did city dweller life.
While I liked Ran-Del and Francesca's question-and-answer sessions at first, I eventually got to the point where I wished Buxton had incorporated information about the different cultures into the story more smoothly. I was happy when the story moved on to its next big phase, Ran-Del and Francesca's marriage. Unfortunately, that part became increasingly frustrating and stressful for me, to the point that I checked whether there was a sequel just so I could find out whether Ran-Del and Francesca were still married by the end of the book without actually looking at the last few pages.
When I first started reading the book, I felt more sympathy for Ran-Del than any of the other characters. I gradually grew to like Francesca, though. She did what she could to make it easier for Ran-Del to get back to his people, and I loved that, when things started to get a little steamy between her and Ran-Del, she stopped things enough to give Ran-Del an opportunity to decide whether he really wanted to go further (Sansoussy people only have sex after marriage, so Francesca was more sexually experienced than Ran-Del). I couldn't imagine Francesca and Ran-Del getting married and actually being happy together, but I did come to like and sympathize with them both.
After they made their marriage 100% binding for both their cultures, things changed, and I began to get more and more frustrated and annoyed with Ran-Del and Francesca, but mostly with Ran-Del (I can't reveal my reasons for getting upset with Francesca without including a spoiler, so I'm just not going to go into that bit). Ran-Del had made such a big deal about Sansoussy marriages, and how Francesca needed to realize that she couldn't sleep with other men, and how he of course would never even think of sleeping with any woman but her. And then he proceeded to spend a lot of time with Janis, a woman who he knew was interested in him and didn't care that he was married. He got angry when Francesca felt jealous, conveniently forgetting that, unlike him, Francesca couldn't read his emotions and know for a fact that he wasn't cheating on her.
There were a few times I came very close to hating Ran-Del for the way he handled the situation between himself, Janis, and Francesca. I wasn't sure what sort of ending the book was moving towards – since this was a science fiction novel, and not romance, a happy ending wasn't guaranteed. Although the description of the sequel told me that Ran-Del and Francesca would still be married by the end of the book, I couldn't imagine how Buxton would make me believe in the longevity of their relationship. I didn't really want them to stay together, but I didn't know how Francesca would deal with the threats against the House of Hayden without the aid of Ran-Del's special abilities.
Surprisingly, Buxton did manage to convince me that Ran-Del and Francesca's marriage could work. I wish the deciding moment hadn't come so late in the book, and I wish I could believe that Ran-Del and Francesca would handle future bumps in their relationship better. If I do get the sequel, it will be some time from now, because the idea of reading more about the two of them still stresses me out a little. I loved the book's exploration of two very different cultures, and I liked both Francesca and Ran-Del as individuals, but as a couple they were kind of nerve-wracking. I might take a look at some of the other books Buxton has written, instead.
(Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
What attracted me to this book was the author's description of it – multiple interesting-sounding characters whose paths intersect, plus lots of potential for political intrigue. Sadly, although it did turn out to be an interesting read, it's probably my least favorite of Buxton's works so far. The main reason for that? Two words: rape fatigue.
One male character was raped, but, for the most part, women had it worse. In this book, if you were female, you were probably either raped or threatened with rape. On-page rape was relatively rare and I don't recall any of it being graphically described. There were just so many references to rape, period. A woman in the Emperor's harem who tried to run away was raped by a monster as punishment. Antonio, the Emperor's son, wasn't fit to be around human beings – not only was he a rapist, he was an incestuous rapist. Maddy, the captain of a merchant spaceship, was threatened with rape by one of her crew members. Girls in villages like the one Alexander, one of the Emperor's Own Corps of Guards, grew up in all lived with the threat of rape and were sometimes scarred by their own parents in an effort to avoid being captured and put to work as prostitutes. The list goes on. It probably didn't help that I started reading this shortly after I stalled on the first season of Game of Thrones, outraged that the writers had inserted rape scenes where the book had had none.
Moving on. The book takes a while to get going, and I thought the second half was more interesting that the first. By the second half, all the players were finally in motion and (mostly) had all their cards on the table for readers to see. There were several storylines, but they all tied together in one way: could the Emperor be overthrown without throwing the Empire into complete chaos or putting someone worse in his place? Readers got a look at the players involved in pretty much every aspect of the conflict: the rebels, those aiding the rebels, and the Imperial family. The various storylines could, for the most part, be mapped to the book's various romantic relationships.
Initially, my favorite romantic couple was Maddy and Thad, because of all that lovely romantic tension brewing just under the surface. When they became an actual couple (sort of), I grew less interested in them and eventually came to prefer Peter Barranca and the mystery woman he was required to sleep with in order to hide the fact that his marriage was a sham. In general, Peter was my favorite character, and probably another reason why I preferred the second half of the book to the first.
Although having all those characters in the book meant that readers had lots of “favorite character” and “favorite hated character” options, one drawback was that the characters weren't explored in the kind of depth I would have liked. I felt like I knew many of the characters in only a surface-level kind of way, with Alexander being one of the biggest exceptions. I understood Cassandra a little better near the end of the book, after she told Alexander a little about how the way she grew up affected her, but I would have liked to have had more of that earlier on.
Antonio, Vinitra, and Paznowski were other characters I would have liked to understand better. Okay, so Antonio was a human cesspool, but was he always that way? He was clearly worse than his father. Vinitra was unbelievably passive and so bent to Antonio's will that she might as well have been his puppet. How did Antonio manage to warp her that badly, considering that the Empress did everything she could to stand in his way? And Paznowski. There was an attempt to explain him and his devotion to Antonio, but I didn't buy it. He seemed too smart to put himself under the thumb of a guy like Antonio. It didn't help that I couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of a relatively undamaged person being at all attracted to a guy like Antonio.
I actually expected more intrigue and betrayal than I got – for a good chunk of the book, I steeled myself for either Vinitra or Paznowski, or both, to suddenly reveal that they weren't as devoted to Antonio as they seemed. With Vinitra, I think I was hoping she'd become something less pitiful. Paznowski was just a disappointment. He was far more cunning than Antonio, and the way his story ended was a huge waste of potential.
The ending is written as being a primarily happy one. I kind of wish there had been a “X years in the future” ending that at least showed the fate of the empire, since I wasn't convinced that its many years of corruption had truly ended. The way the various couples' romances were resolved worked for me, though, even when they were resolved in a more open-ended way.
- I really, really could have done without Antonio and Vinitra's on-page sex scene. It was definitely a brain bleach moment.
- Although her sexual "policies" weren't my cup of tea, some readers may find Maddy's views on sex to be refreshing. She feels free to have sex as often as she likes, and what happens in the bedroom doesn't need to affect what happens at work. For example, she can have sex with a crew member one day and reprimand him for screwing up on the job the next. She's consistent enough that no crew member expects her to behave otherwise.
- Those who are particularly sensitive towards representations of autistic characters may have issues with parts of the beginning of the book. I've only ever met a couple autistic people, so I'm not the best judge, but I was bothered that several characters seemed to equate "stupid" with "autistic," even after they said they didn't.
(Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
Just based on the number of times I've seen it recommended, I think this might be Somerville's best-loved book. I've owned it for a while and decided I was finally in the mood to read it.
When I start reading e-books, I usually dive right in without bothering to check their descriptions or genres. I thought at first that this was m/m fantasy romance. Sixty pages in, I decided I needed to reset my expectations, because Kei and Arman hadn't even met yet. Plus, the book's earliest (and, for the next several hundred pages, only) sex scenes involved Kei and Arman with other people. Now that I've read the whole thing, I think it might best be called fantasy (epic fantasy?) with strong m/m romantic aspects.
Arman is a general in the Prijian Empire, ordered to begin the invasion of northern Darshian – the Prij have already conquered southern Darshian. Kei is a healer in the small village of Ai-Albon, in northern Darshian. Both men view each others' peoples as savages. To Kei, the Prij are greedy, war-like, and stupidly superstitious. To Arman, the Darshianese are simple, weak, and inferior. With time, they might even be grateful to their Prijian invaders, once they learn how superior the Prijian Empire is.
When Kei is made one of the Darshianese hostages and assigned to be a slave in Arman's household, the two men gradually learn more about each other and even become friends. However, they're still on opposite sides of a war, and their friendship is a fragile and complicated thing. Kei's people have good cause to hate Arman's, and Arman's people have the power of life and death over the Darshianese hostages.
I am the kind of person who stresses out over the lives of characters I care about. This book stressed me out so much, and there were times when I had to take a break because I was afraid to see how things were going to turn out. For readers who are like me, here's a bit of reassurance: yes, the ending is a happy one.
Although I called this fantasy fiction, the fantasy aspects are very light. The Prijian Empire and Darshian both have what appears to be a fairly high percentage of infertile people, so both societies are very concerned with fertility and successful births. Among the Darshianese, some of these “infertiles” have gifts, like being able to move things with their minds or speak telepathically. The Prij view tales of Darshianese gifts as fantastic stories. At least in this book, no Prijian infertiles are gifted.
This is a very long, slow-paced book, and it takes a while for events to move forward. Sometimes I noticed the length and felt vaguely like certain parts of the story could have been condensed, and sometimes I sank into the story and barely noticed how long it was. I was a little impatient with how long it took for Arman and Kei to finally meet, but I appreciated their slow-building relationship. At the time Kei was forced to be a part of Arman's household, Arman was filled with grief and hatred. Their friendship and the eventual hints of attraction they felt for each other were complicated by their respective positions. It was wonderful, intense, emotional stuff. I'm a fan of slow-developing relationships and romance, and this book gave me that in spades.
There were times when the story went outside my comfort zone. For example, the relationship between Kei, Reji, and Arman bothered me for a while. When reading romance, I prefer it when the characters are emotionally and physically involved with one person. After Kei and Arman became a couple, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. Early on, some of Reji's comments made me think that he was perhaps more content to have a long-term relationship with Kei than Kei realized, and I dreaded the “break up” scene.
It went better than I expected, but it bothered me that Kei viewed Reji as the lover he no longer had sex with and Arman as the lover he did. I saw it as unfair to both Reji and Arman, although they mostly seemed fine with that setup. I wanted Reji to be able to move on, and I wanted Arman to know he had a lover who cared for him and would never leave him for someone else. After the years Arman spent married to Mayl, I felt he needed that. All of this was dealt with in a way that worked better for me by the end, but, like everything else, it took a while.
Lots of things went more smoothly than I would have expected. This is not exactly a complaint, but I did spend a good portion of the book expecting horrible things that never happened. I tensed up before Kei's “break up” with Reji, before the trial at Ai-Darbin, and all throughout the events at the end. I won't say that everything was resolved easily, but it did all go much more smoothly than I expected, which left me feeling kind of...disappointed? Which is weird, because it's not like I wanted the characters to suffer more.
Probably my biggest complaint about this book was how black-and-white some things were. The Prijian Empire was warlike, superstitious, and arrogant. I struggle to think of a single good to say about it. Kei, a hostage and slave, had no reason to like it, and even Arman didn't seem to like anything about his home country besides Loke, his friend and servant, and Karus, his teacher. Darshian, meanwhile, was positively presented. It wasn't 100% perfect, but it was definitely better than the Prijian Empire, to the point that several Prij wanted to move there by the end.
I had similar issues with the way Mayl was depicted. At first, I thought she might end up being a more nuanced character. I thought her and Arman's marriage had started off well and then soured, but later it was confirmed that Arman had dreaded his marriage to Mayl right from the start. There was never any attempt to present motivations for her behavior, beyond “she's a horrible person.” Considering the very balanced way in which Arman was characterized, this bugged me. I didn't necessarily need Mayl to be likable, I just wanted her not to be such a flat character.
All in all, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of this series. I loved these characters and am a little sad that Book 2 jumps 16 years into the future, but I'm hoping that the focus on Karik will allow for a more balanced look at both Prijian and Darshianese societies.
This was not an error-free book. There were occasional typos and missing words. They came up often enough that I felt I should mention it, but not so often that they interfered with my enjoyment of the story.
(Originally posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
The story starts off split between two sets of characters: Sergeant Nessilka and her goblin troops, and Sings-to-Trees and his various patients. Goblins have been at war with humans and elves for some time, mostly because they don't have much of a choice. When humans moved into goblin lands, the goblins, preferring to avoid conflict, moved out. Eventually, though, there were no other places they could move. A few disagreements and misunderstandings later, and the war began. The elves joined in as allies of the humans.
When Sergeant Nessilka and eight of her troops accidentally end up trapped behind enemy lines, her goal is to get everyone safely home. Although Sings-to-Trees is technically an enemy, he's a very unusual elf. He's more concerned with taking care of his animal patients than with the war, and he has fond memories of the goblins that used to live near his home. He might be able to help, but first he and the goblins have to deal with whatever is mysteriously emptying out nearby farmhouses and villages before it gets them too.
It took a while for the story to really get going. All the characters' paths didn't cross until about halfway through the novella. However, not once did I mentally start tapping my foot, waiting for something to happen. I was enjoying the characters, world, and writing too much for that.
The story's wry humor and quirky details reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. For example, on the one hand, Sings-to-Trees is a stereotypically gorgeous, nature-loving elf. On the other hand, when readers first meet him, he has his right arm up to the shoulder inside a pregnant unicorn's birth canal, is bruised from the contractions and being kicked by his ungrateful patient, and is splattered with unicorn crap. His home and his life were all arranged with his patients in mind, and his own people tended to steer clear of him, because they preferred nature that was clean and pretty.
Most of the goblins were fairly basic characters, with one identifying trait and not much else. Weasel stuttered and was good at catching small animals, Thumper was huge and liked thumping things (and people), Gloober always had his finger up his nose, etc. Taken as a group, they felt like a family. No nonsense, long-suffering Nessilka gave them direction and tried to keep them all together and safe. I liked Nessilka right away. Blanchett, who rarely spoke for himself and preferred to act as “interpreter” for his constant companion, a teddy bear, was another favorite of mine. His inability to function without his teddy bear was heartbreaking.
The ending was perhaps a little too light and fluffy, considering that there was still a war going on. However, after all that tension (creepy recently vacated farmhouse ::shudder::), all those bodies, and that tragically messed up “villain,” I appreciated it. I very much hope that the author plans to write more stories (or even novels?) set in this world. More exhausted, busy, pragmatic elven veterinarian would be especially nice.
I bought this book primarily because the main character is an artificial intelligence. I'm happy to say it worked out really well for me.
In the world of this book, AIs are basically indentured servants. If they end up with decent-paying jobs and manage to avoid having to pay for too many of their own upgrades, they have a chance of becoming free AIs. Sarafina is an accountant AI who ends up becoming the main AI of a cruise ship after her bank is bought out. It's not at all the kind of work she's used to or would prefer to do – accounting didn't prepare her for dealing with biologicals on a daily basis – but she tries to adapt. At least the ship has one other AI, Pilot, who she can talk to, and she's delighted to learn that one of the ship's newest passengers is a free AI. Unfortunately, Sarafina's first cruise has problems right from the start, including stowaways, glitches that keep taking out security cameras (Sarafina's primary “eyes”), a drunken captain who hates AIs, understaffing, rapidly growing Life Support-generated algae paste, and trouble-making child-passengers.
It took me a while to realize that this book was not just going to be about Sarafina desperately trying to keep all of the ship's problems hidden from the passengers and somehow keep the passengers happy at the same time. There were significant mystery/suspense elements, although it took Sarafina a while to realize that some of the passengers weren't just odd.
Almost all the named characters behaved at least a little suspiciously. Belinda Keevy, a child who'd been waiting for her aunt, happened to disappear at the same time that a power surge disrupted Sarafina's memory and caused several of her security cameras to go offline. Mrs. Selsda, the child's supposed aunt, seemed remarkably unconcerned when her niece wasn't immediately found. Instead, she was more interested in gambling and flirting with either the First Officer (not surprising, since he was pretty handsome) or the Captain (very surprising, since he was a drunkard). The Captain hated AIs and might have had something to do with the apparent suicide of Sarafina's predecessor, Big Girl. Not even Sapient Loren, the free AI, was 100% trustworthy, sometimes making comments that didn't quite fit with its usually light, flirty personality.
Sarafina's POV placed sometimes frustrating limitations on the story. She didn't always pay close enough attention to things that made me wildly curious, either because she didn't know enough about human behavior to realize something odd was going on or because her programming didn't permit it. The way she existed in the ship also meant that I couldn't get a human's eye view of what was going on, and certain sensory details were missing. It felt very odd. The way she could divide her attention also made for a sometimes hectic story.
Once I got used to Sarafina and realized I was dealing with a mystery/suspense story, I enjoyed trying to keep track of various suspicious details and guess at probable suspects. I correctly guessed Loren and Roger's role in the story only a third of the way in, although there were lots of details I got wrong or didn't even consider. The absolute mess that Sarafina and the crew had to deal with, while somehow not alarming the passengers, was great fun. I laughed when the poor First Officer realized exactly how much trouble they were all in and how few resources they had to work with since the cruise ship's owner was so cheap.
For the most part, I loved how the AI aspects were handled. Sarafina was amusingly proper. There were moments when her thoughts seemed potentially a little too human, but there was nothing that felt glaringly out of place to me. The dynamic between Sarafina and Pilot, two owned AIs, and Loren, a free AI, was interesting. I was very much a fan of Loren and would love a sequel (or entire spin-off series) starring Loren and Roger (Loren's human assistant). Their relationship was one of the more fabulous things in this book, and I didn't get to see nearly as much of the two of them together as I would have liked.
That said, not all of the AI-related stuff worked well for me. AI memories and behaviors were messed with more than I would have liked. And it wasn't just villains doing it! Not only did it upset me for the AIs' sake's, I also felt that it was sloppy on the author's part, a crutch that became overused near the end.
I wouldn't call the ending of this book entirely satisfying. The whole thing with Belinda Keevy was never fully explained (and it really needed to be, because OMG the things she could do), and a few other story threads weren't completely tied up. I really, really wish there were sequels. Even so, I'm glad I read this and plan on checking out some of McCoy's other books.
There were several things in the book that didn't quite seem to fit, but most of them were explained by the end. One possible editing error I noticed, however, was Pilot's name. Originally, he told Sarafina that his real name and nickname were both Pilot. Later on, however, it was stated that the name he was given at birth was Adonis.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
I really enjoyed McCoy's Queen of Roses, so I decided to buy her Lord Alchemist Duology as well. Herb-Witch turned out to be incredibly difficult to get into, although I did eventually find my footing in this new world. I became invested in the characters...and then the ending happened. To say it was disappointing is putting it mildly. I'll have to read Book 2 to be sure, but so far I'd have to say that this book is not for romance fans, despite the "romance" tag I've seen applied to it.
Iathor, the Lord Alchemist, first meets Kessa Herbsman in a prison cell. She has been accused of disminding a moneylender with one of her potions. Iathor uses a truth potion on her and realizes that she is an immune, someone on whom most potions have little or no effect. There are only two known immunes at the moment: Iathor (the Lord Alchemist is required to be immune) and his heir and brother, Iasen. Iathor has been searching for an immune woman for decades, because he must either marry an immune woman or take a dramswife, a woman who has drunk the dramsman's draught in order to make her completely loyal to him. The thought of a wife who has no choice but to be by his side horrifies him.
Ugly, half-barbarian Kessa never expected to receive a marriage proposal from anyone, much less the Lord Alchemist, but she's not about to fall gratefully into his arms. She has no idea what it means to be immune or how rare it is. All she wants is to take care of her sickly foster sister and to be left alone. Iathor attempts to woo Kessa by feeding her, taking care of her when she's ill or in pain, and generally making her life easier. Even if she decides not to be his wife, he'd at least like to make her his student.
Here's how I thought the story would go: Kessa would agree to become Iathor's student. She'd gradually make friends with Nicia, another trainee. She'd work with Iathor to stop the activities of the gray watch and discover who had dosed the moneylender prior to her meeting with him. She'd eventually come to trust Iathor with her secrets and her family, and, finally, she'd agreed to marry him. What could have just been a marriage of convenience would end up being a love match. Book 2 would feature Kessa trying to adjust to life among the wealthy and titled, Iathor adjusting to Kessa's family, and both of them facing Iasen's hatred of Kessa's half-barbarian heritage.
Some things went the way I thought they would. Others, not so much.
At first, I was on Kessa's side. Iathor seemed to accept it as a given that Kessa would agree to marry him. Never mind that this would turn her world upside down. Never mind that her immunity meant that the children he wanted her to bear might kill her. I wasn't entirely sure about how immunity worked – a potion designed to heal Kessa's arm worked, for instance, but most pain-relievers didn't. At the very least, giving birth would be awful. What if there were complications during her pregnancy, and her immunity prevented potions from helping her?
Iathor's accommodating attitude and Kessa's intense prickliness and bucket-loads of paranoia eventually put me more on Iathor's side. She snarled at him at every opportunity, despite the fact that he did almost nothing to deserve it. It was very difficult to like her, and I began to wish that Laita, Kessa's foster sister, was the immune main character instead. Kessa's resistance to Iathor dragged on an on, while the much more practical, mercenary, and charming Laita would have seen an opportunity for her and her family to move up in the world and would have cheerfully grabbed it.
I could imagine Iathor marrying Laita for political reasons and the immune children she might give him, Laita marrying him for his political power and money, and their relationship either blossoming into love or not. Either way, it would have felt better than what Kessa did at the end of this book. Kessa told Nicia not to feign immunity because it would be cruel to Iathor, but I felt that what she did was almost as cruel. Not to mention possibly unnecessary, if she had only unbent enough to finally trust Iathor even a little.
McCoy went way, way overboard with Kessa, both in terms of her prickliness towards Iathor and her ugliness. Readers were reminded over and over again that Kessa's eyes were hideous – the color of dog-vomit, or rotting herbs, or dead leaves. She hid them both because she was self-conscious about them about them and because the full force of her gaze could be effective as a weapon. The bit that really got me was that her own foster siblings flinched away from her gaze. Unless her eyes were magically repellent, which I don't think they were, this was too much.
I had a lot of issues with McCoy's writing. I had to go back and reread certain earlier parts of the book several times because details necessary for understanding those bits weren't revealed until much later. The rhythm of characters' speech and thoughts (especially Kessa's) sometimes made things harder to follow than they should have been. I spent the first quarter of the book trying to find my footing and didn't truly feel sure about my knowledge of the world until I was halfway through.
In general, I felt that the story would have been much improved had an editor gone through and tightened certain parts up and placed some of the world explanations earlier in the book. Considering how much fun I had with Queen of Roses, I had expected to love this book. While I liked several of the characters and their interactions, enjoyed Kessa's alchemy training, and wanted to see how and whether Iathor could win Kessa over, adjusting to this world took more work than it should have, and the ending wasn't worth it. If I didn't already own Book 2, I don't know that I could bring myself to buy it. However, since I do own it, I'll read it and see if the duology as a whole is worth the trouble, even if this first book was a disappointment.
A combined cast list and glossary is included at the end of the book. In my opinion, the glossary should have been listed at the beginning. It might have made the first quarter of the book less confusing.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
Considering how disappointing Herb-Witch turned out to be, I was a little worried about reading this. I ended up liking it a lot more, but it hurts to think how much better Herb-Wife and the duology as a whole could have been, had McCoy had an excellent editor. I'm not talking about typos – although I noticed a few (mostly, missing words), there really weren't that many. My problem is with the story, which would have been much better if it had been tightened up.
Herb-Wife continues right where Herb-Witch left off. Kessa is at Iathor's house, recovering from being attacked and almost raped. Her shop has been burned down. She knows that Iasen was probably the one who ordered the attack and that he had probably done it out of a hatred for her barbarian blood and a desire to continue to be Iathor's heir. She knows there is nothing she can do to him directly, but marrying Iathor and giving him a son would provide her with some form of revenge. Because she's an immune, there's a good chance she won't survive childbirth, but there's comfort in knowing that her child would be well taken care of.
Plot-wise, the whole book is basically just about Kessa's goals and Iathor's efforts to find out what's really going on. Kessa begins to fall for Iathor but figures he'd hate her if he knew the truth about why she agreed to marry him. Iathor knows Kessa is hiding things and is determined to keep her safe and make their marriage a happy one, despite society's prejudices against half-barbarians and his own brother's hatred of Kessa.
I really think Herb-Witch and Herb-Wife would have been better as a single book. There just wasn't enough story, and I felt like McCoy loved her characters so much that she couldn't bring herself to do the kind of ruthless editing that would have been necessary to tighten everything up. I appreciated the slow-developing affection between Iathor and Kessa and came to understand Kessa much better in this book, but the story's pacing was, overall, pretty terrible. Did we really need to see Iathor and Kessa's entire trip to Cym? And did we need to hear so much about Kessa's bleeding? It seemed like she spent half the book either menstruating (from the effects of Purgatorie) or bleeding from her and Iathor's cringe-worthy wedding night.
Even so, McCoy is really, really good at writing compelling characters and interesting worlds, and those things were what kept me reading, even when nothing much new seemed to be happening. Iathor was my favorite character in the book, and it wasn't long before I developed a literary crush on him. He carried his power as Lord Alchemist well. I loved how he tried to balance his strong sense of duty and his growing feelings for Kessa.
Kessa was more subdued this time around, due both to her feelings of guilt about the things she was hiding from Iathor and her belief that she would soon die in childbirth. I appreciated that she no longer tried to bite Iathor's head off at every opportunity, even as the reason for the shift in her behavior hurt. I hated that it took her so long (almost the whole book!) to truly trust Iathor, and I desperately wanted her to have a greater sense of her own self-worth.
I spent half of Herb-Witch trying to get a handle on the characters and the world, so it was a relief that this was no longer an issue for me in Herb-Wife. I was fascinated by Kessa and Iathor's world, even as some aspects repelled me. For example, the reliance of dry tea and men's tea (contraceptives) on maiden's blood bugged me. In this world, the menstrual blood of a maiden (very strict definition of maiden – no kissing, no sex, no sexual behavior of any kind) was somehow different from other blood. I had so many questions about that. The glossary mentioned that it doesn't just have to be menstrual blood, but I still wondered, why maidens? What about virginal men? And why would kissing interfere with the blood's properties?
The dramsmen were another thing that both fascinated and repelled me. Herb-Witch just talked about them, whereas Herb-Wife actually showed the dramsman's draught in action. Nobles like Iathor were very conscious of their responsibilities towards their dramsmen, but it was still hard to imagine anyone who had a choice about it willingly agreeing to take the draught.
Because it badly needed to be tightened up, I hesitate to recommend this duology, but I became so attached to the characters and this world that I plan to read the related works that McCoy has written.
A combined cast list and glossary is included at the end of the book.