Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle Book 1) - Maggie Stiefvater

I'll get back to reviewing indie books next week, I promise.

I think I'm going to institute a policy for the next little while of reviewing one trad-pubbed book each month. That will help me with whittling down my stack of freebies from the last World Fantasy Convention while keeping the focus on indie books -- which is where I want it to be.

This book had my attention at the word raven in the title. Unfortunately, in the end, that wasn't enough for me.

The Raven Boys is a YA fantasy set somewhere in western Virginia. Blue is the youngest in a family of clairvoyants, but her only talent is to amplify any psychic vibrations present. She's also the subject of a prophecy: she's been told from a young age that she would kill her true love. As you can imagine, that's made her ambivalent about falling for anyone -- a tough order for a teenager.

One night, on graveyard duty with a relative, she's surprised to see a spirit herself. His name is Gansey, he tells her. The bad news for him, Blue knows, is that seeing him in this graveyard on this night means he'll be dead within the year. And since Blue's the only one who saw him, it stands to reason that Gansey is her true love.

She meets him, of course. He's a student at Aglionby, the local prep school for rich boys, whose crest is a raven. Gansey's an odd duck who's obsessed with following the local ley lines, which he believes will lead him to an ancient treasure. He also collects people, among them a local scholarship student named Adam, a troubled boy named Ronan, and a taciturn boy named Noah. Blue has a strict policy against getting involved with Raven Boys, but of course she ends up tagging along on Gansey's quest. Then she starts to fall for Adam, and he for her. There are little hints along the way that she'll end up with Gansey, but the resolution is saved for later novels in the series.

Fans of YA fantasy may really like The Raven Boys. It's a well-written book. But at this stage of my life, I'm pretty much over stories with high-school-aged protagonists unless something else about the book really knocks my socks off, and this one didn't do it for me. Recommended with those caveats.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1) - Ann Leckie

I picked this up on the recommendation of several friends who thought it was one of the best books they had read last year. And it won both the Hugo and the Nebula, as well as a host of other awards.

Ancillary Justice is sci-fi. The main character, Breq, was once Justice of Toren -- or rather, the artificial intelligence, or AI, that ran the Radchaai troop carrier Justice of Toren. Or part of it, anyway. In this world, the ship's AI is also implanted in all of the servants/slaves/troops on the ship. All of them know everything the ship knows, and the ship knows and sees everything each of its segments knows and sees. But the thing is that each segment was once human. The Radchaai captured them in their conquests of new worlds, put their bodies on ice, and now thaws them and connects them to the ship's AI when it needs a new segment. Only the officers aboard the ships are independent beings -- and even they are tied to a vast patronage system that leads to the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Minaai.

As the book opens, Breq stumbles across a former lieutenant of his in a place he should not be. Lieutenant Seivarden lost her -- um, his -- command a thousand years ago. For reasons Breq cannot explain to him/herself, he/she takes Seivarden under his/her wing. It's a problem because Breq's on a self-appointed mission to kill Anaander Minaai.

I'm vague about the genders because of a quirk in the Radchaai language. It does not differentiate between gender, and so Breq refers to everyone he/she meets as "she". It was an interesting stylistic choice for Leckie to make; it immediately makes it clear how alien the Radchaai are, but it makes the book somewhat tough going. I found myself assuming that every character was female, and I constantly had to work at keeping track of which character was what.

Despite that, I enjoyed the book. Leckie tackles some ticklish sociological questions in an interesting way, and I expect I'll continue reading the series to find out what happens next. Recommended.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Iced (Chronicles of White World, Book 1) - M. Terry Green

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in Green's Olivia Lawson, Techno-Shaman series, so when I heard she was beginning a new series, my hand immediately went up for an ARC. And I'm glad I asked, because this one promises to be just as good.

The series is set on a future Earth after the next Ice Age has begun. It's unclear to me whether it's a natural phenomenon, or whether some kind of nuclear winter set it off. Either way it's very cold, and there are apparently few human survivors. They have retained enough technology, and developed additional tech, to cope with living in such a cold climate. But still, falling on the ice is tantamount to a death sentence.

Unfortunately, barbarism has survived, as well. Thirteen is a young woman who was previously some kind of slave (which kind becomes apparent partway through the novel). She has somehow procured a skimmer -- a sort of hovercraft for flying over the frozen Pacific -- and she has made it her business to attack slave ships, kill the crew, and free the cargo of slaves by handing over the ship to them. She has an ulterior motive: she's looking for information about her sister, from whom she was separated when they were both made slaves. But she is a thorn in the side of the nation-states that have built their economy on slavery. And the leader of one of those nations in particular has sworn to put the Ghost -- who they believe is a man -- out of commission permanently.

Things get interesting for Thirteen when she finds the survivor of a shipwreck. Cord was iced when slavers attacked the convoy he was in and captured his young daughter Miyu. Thirteen believes Cord knows something about her sister, and Cord senses that information is the only thing keeping her from killing him. Thus begins their uneasy partnership in a quest to steal Miyu back.

Green has clearly done her research, and she's done a great job with transferring sailing terms to this new, futuristic environment. I found myself pulling for both Thirteen and Cord, and couldn't put it down 'til I found out what happened to them. Now I'm looking forward to the next book. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Goddess Rising - Melissa Bowersock

Goddess Rising could be classified as sci-fi, but I wouldn't call it dystopian. It's way more hopeful than that. I'd call it spiritual sci-fi, if there is such a thing.

Little Grace lives in a future on Earth in which a geological holocaust has destroyed our present civilization. Survivors live in communal groups, and they worship the Goddess:
The glory and power of the universe, the Goddess was at once all Love and all Truth, but at the same time She was exacting and uncompromising. She was as constant as the sun and as changeable as the moon, therefore one did well to appreciate Her and give thanks.
One day, Grace learns that she is not who she thought she was. In fact, she is destined to become Greer -- the seer who, legend says, will save her people. She flees into the wilderness, and after a period of hardship and travail, she settles into life in a village in the mountains. There, she becomes apprenticed to a herbalist, and there, too, she learns about sexuality. When she returns to her old home, she has clearly come into her power -- but she is not quite yet done growing.

Bowersock says in the Acknowledgements that she cried when she finished writing this book. I can believe it. Greer's struggle is, in some ways, the struggle of every woman to be taken seriously and to find her place in the world.