So the last up of the Hugo nominees is Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Strategem and Revenant Gun. I mean, technically, it’s just Revenant Gun, but it’s not like I’m going to read the first novel in a series and then the third, without reading the second.
So I’m super-glad this was on the list, because when I read Ninefox Gambit, I respected it, but didn’t really enjoy it that much—it was just too distant from its characters, a well-executed novel full of brilliant ideas, but one which I could never really connect to. And so I always kinda meant to go on and read the sequels, but it’s hard to get myself psyched up for something that’s going to feel like work.
But in fact, these books are not only good, they’re fun. That’s maybe a weird word to use when they’re about interstellar wars and mass murderers and genocides and what-not, but—and I’m not sure if this is really the book or just me finally leaning in to the setting—the protagonists seem more human this time around, with little quirks and light banter and some positive relationships. The distant reserve that I felt from the first book is entirely thawed out in these two. And then all the positive stuff of the first book is still here—the unique worldbuilding, the political intrigue, the questions about the nature of a good society—just leavened with a dose of humanity.
Good stuff, and I won’t wait for Hugo nominations to read more of Lee’s work.
Next up on the Hugo nominee list is Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning. This is basically one of those urban fantasies with a monster-hunting badass woman who has a problematic boyfriend; Roanhorse seems to be aware of the cliche, at one point having her character self-consciously dress up in a midriff-baring halter top and heavy black eyeliner for dramatic purposes.
But they’re better than the average for the genre largely by virtue of the setting. As it starts out, it’s clearly post-apocalyptic, but it seems like one where magic is still (as in our-world urban fantasies) a bit underground and not entirely believed in by everyone; as the book goes on, it becomes clear that this is actually a post-apocalyptic high fantasy setting, where gods and miracles (out of Navajo traditions; the book is set in Dinétah, a Navajo nation post-apocalyptically resurgent) are everyday occurrences. So that’s cool.
There were a couple of things that bugged me, though. The main one is that the heroine is doing a thing I think of as a YA staple, narrating about how she’s inherently evil/corrupted/a monster, based on some past event that’s initially revealed to the viewer only partially, but where even at that, it’s immediately obvious to the reader that there’s an alternate interpretation of events that puts the heroine in a better light. It’s an annoying trope, but at least it isn’t foregrounded too heavily.
The other problem I had is that… y’know, okay, relationships are complicated, and even moreso when they have mystical elements to them and all, but even at that, I just didn’t understand some of the motivations that drove characters’ actions—I understood what they wanted, but not why they wanted it.
All that aside, it’s still an enjoyable read and a very solid first novel; I’ll be looking forward to the sequel (which, now that I look, was just released; okay, cool, that’ll help me to not forget this book entirely by the time I get to the next volume). Recommended, and highly recommended to people who like urban fantasy more than I do.
Next up on the Hugo nominee list is Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. Technically only the first book is nominated, but this is one of those series where it’s really just one book cut in half, so it really only makes sense to read them together.
So the backstory on these novels is that Kowal wrote a novelette, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” (which you can read for free), about an old woman who had been one of the pioneering Martian astronauts, and then decided to write the prequel about her as a young woman in the 1950s, trying to become the person she becomes.
This is the kind of Hugo-bait that I honestly feel a little conceptually ooked-out about, as it’s basically just fan service for the nostalgia for the Space Age rocket program that got so many aging SF fans into the genre in the first place, back when they were little kids watching original Trek and moon landings and what-not. And the book positively revels in the details of its alt-history space program, organizational, technical, and procedural. This is, fundamentally, a book about how the protagonist really super wants to go into space, more than anything else in the whole world, and we’re supposed to go along with that premise without a second thought.
But it’s hard not to notice that this is a phenomenally selfish desire. You can see it in the inciting events of the book—Kowal has a giant extinction-level meteor hit, one that will lead to lethal levels of global warming over a period of decades, and the protagonist’s first thought is “well, they’d better start colonizing other planets, so that some of us will still stay alive when Earth is dead.”
This makes basically zero sense on a conceptual level—terraforming a too-hot Earth is waaaaaaaay easier than terraforming Mars—and of course it also means writing off billions of people as casualties of Earth’s demise while focusing on the hundreds or thousands that might survive on a Mars colony. But the book never even really gets into this, and it treats her space advocacy as matter-of-fact science that nobody could really argue with except irrational short-sighted idiots.
And then too on a personal level, there’s the selfishness of this woman being the one who wants to get into space personally, right. And to some extent that’s kinda inevitable in any competitive field—there probably weren’t any astronauts out there who were genuinely deep-down chill about whether or not they got picked to go to the moon or whatever, you know? And of course, because she is a woman in a time when women faced super-overt discrimination, that kind of “selfishness” more naturally reads as a fight for equality, right. Who wouldn’t cheer for this highly qualified woman to get the job that she by rights ought to have?
And so yeah, I wouldn’t normally read that as selfishness at all… except that there are also black characters in the cast here, including a number of black women, who btw are facing some even more hardcore discrimination here in 1952, and she pretty much steamrolls right over all of them, too. She kind of idly means well, off and on, but at the end of the day, she’s not really doing much of anything to advance their cause even after they’ve helped her out. I think the book sort of recognizes this—they get very angry with her obliviousness at various points—but at the same time, the book is frequently setting things up for her to get to be ineffectually righteous and burnish her good-person cred in between stints of not really giving a shit about anyone except herself.
So there’s kind of an unpleasant undercurrent lying underneath the thing, but the nonsensicality of responding to a planet-threatening disaster by trying to leave is pretty much baked into the space colony genre. And on the race front… well, at least the book doesn’t just make her into a total white savior figure; this kind of imperfect historical figure is a lot more plausible, and really the main problem there is just the hagiographic tone of the books.
So that’s a lot of negative words, but these really were a pleasant quick read with interesting technical details, and I burned through the both of them in quick succession. Recommended if you’re less allergic to Boomer nostalgia (and SF fandom’s space fetishism) than I am.
So the 2019 Hugo nominees were recently announced. I had read all the novel nominees a few years ago and found it to be a rewarding exercise. I missed out on doing that last year, but hey, I should be able to manage it this year, right? I’ve already read Record of a Spaceborn Few and Spinning Silver, so next up on the list is Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera.
So the thing about this is, it’s a book about a galactic Eurovision contest, and the heroes are over-the-hill glam rockers. Books about pop music are really, really not my thing, and if I’d realized the full meaning of the title before I’d started reading, I might have just skipped it entirely.
It’s also written in a style that can only be described as Douglas Adams pastiche—but it’s actually more amped-up than Adams ever was. Like, you know the little parts between chapters where Adams will go off into an extended essay about (for instance) how big space is, before narrowing his focus back down to Arthur Dent and what’s happening to him? Valente stays in that extended essay mode almost the whole time, never really tightening up and falling back into quiet understatement, but always staying at the grandiose level of the hyper-absurd. Maybe it’s like the glam rock version of Douglas Adams.
And so yeah, I wasn’t expecting to really like this very much; at 5% of the way in, I almost just gave up on it entirely, but I enjoy doing the Hugo read thing even if I don’t super-love a particular book, so I kept going, and… well, Valente made it work, even for me. There’s enough heart to the characters, enough originality in the world-building, and enough verve in the writing that it kept me reading and interested. I’m not crying out for a sequel or anything, but it was an enjoyable read.
If it sounds like the sort of thing you’ll like, you’ll probably like it a great deal; if it sounds like the sort of thing you’d hate, who knows, you might still like it. Recommended.
James S.A. Corey’s Tiamat’s Wrath is the eighth installment of the Expanse novels, and it feels like it, in a good way. A lot of time has passed since the first book’s events, and our characters have lived through a pile of major events, right.
And the thing about this series is, the books aren’t just doing the same thing over and over. Events have real significance and the world changes in meaningful ways, including the people in it. And so our protagonists can look back at the choices they’ve made, and the world they’ve created, and work through a complex set of feelings about all of it. It’s a bit reminiscent of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, though perhaps not so melancholy.
But of course, this is the Expanse, which means that these wonderfully-drawn characters share center stage with some real Big Idea SF, and the ideas here are big indeed—interstellar empires, incredible artifacts of dead civilizations, questions about the nature of humanity, and the fate of human civilization, just for starters.
There’s allegedly only one more volume left in the series; there’s a lot to wrap up in it, if it really happens that way, but this does feel like a series that’s nearing an end, even if I’d personally be happy for it to go on indefinitely. This is some of the best SF out there, and even though it’s gotten a lot of recognition (including a very well-done TV adaptation), I feel like it deserves more. Highly recommended.
Zen Cho’s The True Queen is the sequel to her Sorcerer to the Crown; but whereas that book was working very much in the Regency-England-with-magic genre, this one is going a bit further afield.
Specifically, its main characters are from Janda Baik, and merely visiting England by way of Faerie. So when we see the characters and institutions of the first book, they’re seen through fresh eyes. And too, the concerns of the book are larger than the concerns of England, and the Sorceress Royal is merely an ally to be courted rather than the biggest mover and shaker.
Mostly, though, it’s a book about family—and especially sisters. It works well and is a solid sequel, and I’m looking forward to the next novel in this setting. Highly recommended.
So I’m not super read-up on my Victorian horror, which turned out to be kind of a problem for me when reading Theodora Goss’s European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Because there’d be, for instance, a place named “Carfax” and I’m immediately thinking that it’s a stupid idea to put in a place name that’s the same as a modern auto-buying service… but of course it turns out that Goss is just making a reference to something out of Stoker, not choosing that name out of nowhere. And I guess it’s probably not Stoker’s fault that he couldn’t have foreseen what kind of brands would exist in the future.
But so as little as I know about these old books, when you start throwing around names like “Van Helsing” and “Harker,” even I can put two and two together and guess that the book is going to feature vampires. And so it does. The heroines of Goss’s Athena Club take off on a journey across Europe to confront their enemies and save the day and it’s going to involve crumbling castles and ancient counts and the like.
One unusual stylistic thing this series does is have the characters interject all the time (because the conceit is that it’s being written by one of them). So you’ll have something like “Mary was determined and fearless as she faced her foe” in the narration and then a little “Mary: Actually I was terrified!” or whatever. I understand the purpose of this—it’s to get in some extra characterization and provide a bit of behind-the-scenes fourth wall breaking to make some exposition easier—but I don’t think it adds enough to make up for how distracting it is. I think Goss is committed to the gimmick after two books, but I sort of wish she’d never started with it, because I’d much rather read the book straight. (I’m actually a bit curious as to how this is formatted in the print version—if it’s done in the margins in pseudo-handwriting, I could see it being less distracting, for instance.)
That’s a relatively minor thing, though, and overall it’s an enjoyable enough book. These aren’t great novels, but they’re pleasant quick reads, just above the level of good airport books; possibly they’d be more than that if you’re more into Victorian horror than I am. Lightly recommended.
Katherine Fabian and Iona Datt Sharma’s Sing for the Coming of the Longest Night reminds me a bit of a Connie Willis novel, where the characters run around trying to put clues together to figure out the solution to a problem before a deadline hits. It’s not quite as madcap farcical as Willis books often are, but it has some of that same feel to it.
In this case, though, the problem is that the protagonists’ boyfriend is missing as the result of a spell he cast; the book is set in a world that’s a lot like ours, but oh yeah also Elfland is right around the corner and magic is a thing, everyday and normal but also a bit disreputable and dangerous.
With protagonists who are collectively bisexual poly genderqueer Hindu Jewish half-elves (okay, arguably the half-elf is less of a protagonist than a quest object), this could have felt like maybe it was trying too hard, but it doesn’t; I don’t know the authors’ biographies, but the details feel lived-in and mundane enough that it mostly ends up feeling like lived experience, at least from where I sit.
This is a relatively slight book (I think actually novella length, maybe), but it’s an enjoyable comfort read in the way those Connie Willis books can be. Recommended if it sounds like the kind of thing you’d like.
Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower isn’t what I expected. I was thinking, based on nothing other than the cover design, that it was going to be a straight-up epic fantasy—you know, a band of heroes gets together and goes on a quest to save the world, that kind of thing.
And being Leckie, I figured it’d have some interesting twists to it, the kind of thing that brings a twencen genre into modernity, maybe something like Daniel Abraham’s Dagger and Coin series.
But no, it’s actually doing something altogether different. It is a fantasy, but it’s operating in a more mythic mode, with old gods and usurping princes and the like. And, like Leckie’s other books, it has an unusual narrator and is doing clever things with the narrative form.
It’s an excellent book, taking on heady themes of justice and vengeance in unexpected ways, and I fully expect to see it come up a lot when the appropriate nominations come in.
Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is officially the first volume of “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club,” but I think that’s only because “The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen” might have had some trademark problems.
Because really, this is doing the same thing that Alan Moore’s comic was doing: Grabbing characters out of Victorian pulp fiction as if they were real people living in a shared universe, and then giving them an adventure together. But of course, here it’s taking heroines rather than heroes, which provides an opportunity for some social commentary along the way.
So the book starts off with Mary Jekyll dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy, and proceeds to wind its way through the streets of London, encountering everyone you might expect to encounter, and a few that you might not have thought of.
It’s a solid, well-paced adventure story with a bit of feminism tossed in along the way. It’s a little weirdly blind about class issues—there’s a lot of matter-of-fact acceptance of the privileges that come with being a gentlewoman—and I think basically everyone in the book is white, but maybe some of that is explored in later books. Enjoyable light fun.
So let’s be real clear here: David Weber’s Through Fiery Trials is not a good book. And sure, none of this Safehold series is objectively good, but even through the lens of someone who’s in the tank for this series and all its godawful names, this is pretty terrible.
The thing about Weber is, his failure case is well-known, because it’s happened in a whole bunch of books so far: It’s when his characters have a moment to relax, so they spend 1100 pages just sitting around telling each other how awesome they are.
Before I started this book, I suspected strongly this might be one of those volumes, because having just wrapped up a major conflict in the last volume, everyone seemed primed for a fuck-you nothing-happens volume. But as the book began, Weber was careful to actually lay out the stakes that remained, and set up a conflict, and… maybe this will actually be a book that has a reason to exist?
But haha, no. The conflict he sets up gets resolved over maybe, idk, 100 pages or so, the rest of which is taken up with pure fluff. If you’re a super-super-super-super-super-dedicated reader of the Safehold series, you’ll want to read this book, with its meetings between characters you’ve come to know and love, where they sing paeans to each others’ greatness. But no normal human could possibly sit through this interminable, insufferable book.
Not recommended, but then look it’s like book ten, and are you really going to stop now? No, I didn’t think so. Suck it up, buttercup.
So Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series is sort of loosely like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, in that it’s globetrotting in a basically-Napoleonic setting with dragons. But it’s not quite doing the same thing.
Partly that’s because the setting here is not our Earth—it’s a fictional subcreation. This doesn’t matter a whole lot, because it’s usually pretty easy to translate things into not-London, not-Russia, not-Japan, and so forth, but it does mean that there’s no actual Napoleonic War going on.
Which gets into a larger difference, which is that these aren’t really about the military at all. Lady Trent is a natural scientist who’s interested in dragons, so while she is traipsing all over the globe, she’s doing it for research purposes, rather than military ones. (Though of course, it’s hard for a not-British subject to go on expeditions all over the globe without getting mixed up in political and military concerns at least a little bit.)
But… still and all, you’ve got a book with old-timey genteel protagonists exploring all the corners of their world, and seeing how the dragons and the people are in all these different places, and making discoveries scientific and historical along the way, so it’s not totally different. Maybe the best way to think of it is that Novik’s books are about Captain Aubrey’s concerns, while Brennan’s are about Doctor Maturin’s.
As far as handling the problematic aspects of imperialism, the book is a little bit of a mixed bag—it’s written from a first-person perspective (the narrator of the books is the elderly Lady Trent talking about her younger life), and that perspective is sort of a screaming leftie by the standards of her fictional time, in that she questions some of the assumptions of the imperial project and constantly is an advocate for the interests of the people she meets on her travels; and plus is lightly against the not-British class system, and is of course a feminist. But still and all, she’s a citizen of not-Britain and tends to think of the people in other places as having concerns that are secondary to those of her country, and their beliefs as quaint folkways to be politely respected but not really taken seriously.
Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable series and a quick read. Recommended to anyone who wants to read an elderly woman who clearly dgaf talking about the scientific exploits of her youth.
There’s nothing about Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series that would obviously indicate that Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling, but my reaction to it ended up being weirdly similar: The first book was trashy, but just good enough for me to bother finishing it; the second book was clearly better, if still not actually good as such; but before you know it, I’m just tearing through them and it doesn’t even really matter if they’re good, because I just want to find out what happens next.
I can’t really explain it; it’s not like the writing is sparkling or anything—it’s fine, it’s there, it works. The characters are pleasant, but not really jumping onto my list of favorite fictional characters. And the story itself is paint-by-numbers TV detective/PI stuff, the basic plot you might get from any generic CBS cop show episode. Objectively, it’s nothing special, but… I’m tearing through them quickly and want more.
(Although—and this is lightly spoilery—I also want Rowling to knock it off with the “will they or won’t they” bullshit; when the series started, it was clear that the protagonists were coworkers and friends, not romantic partners; the more she flirts with their potential relationship, the more aggravating it is.)
If you happen to be taking an airplane flight somewhere, load these up on your phone before you go, because they’re basically perfect for the purpose.
Nicola Griffith’s Hild is a historical semi-biography—that is, it’s about a real person, and it doesn’t contradict the facts that are known about her life… but also, this is 7th century proto-England, and almost everything we know about the real-life person is based on a short bit in Bede, so most of this is pure invention.
But it’s a convincing invention. What we know about this time period is very limited, so Griffith is doing a lot of world-building, but… it feels real. The attitudes that people have are convincingly unmodern in most respects—how they think about religion, sex, politics, the good life are all very different from how we do—while still being believable and coherent.
To a very real extent, more than being a story about Hild, this is a story about the world she lives in, a world on the cusp of major changes; Griffith’s writing (aided by the length of the book) draw you into this world and make it feel as real as anything. This collection of bare names and scanty events from historical documents is given the weight and texture of reality.
It’s quietly excellent, and the one warning I’ll give is that this is the first volume of a planned trilogy, which I didn’t know going in. That’s not a big problem for this book taken on its own—it tells a reasonably complete coming-of-age story—but I do worry that if I grab the next one in a few years, I’m not going to remember all the intricate relationships between the large supporting cast.
I didn’t intend to sit down today and write about a bunch of books that aren’t as good as earlier entries in their series, but I guess that’s what’s happening, because here’s Alex White’s A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, the second of his Salvagers novels, and it’s fine, it’s perfectly enjoyable, but it’s not as good as the first book.
I think it really boils down to the plot of this one feeling too similar to the plot of the first. There’s the part where they get the gang together (again), the investigation of the machinations that are going on (again), and a climactic battle with the forces of evil (again).
I mentioned that the first book felt a lot like Firefly (the TV show, not the godawful Piers Anthony novel); this book really doubles down on that TV show feeling; it’s not quite Monster of the Week, but it’s not far off.
If that turns out to be what the series is, hey, I’m here for it. I like the characters, the world-building remains interesting, and the action is absorbing enough. But a series that just keeps doing the same thing over and over again is still a bit of a letdown after something like The Expanse, where each novel completely reshapes what the series is about.
Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping is the latest in the Rivers of London series. I’ve liked this series, but… okay, the problem is that this is like the fourth book dealing with the ongoing hunt for the Faceless Man, and a) I’m already bored with that plotline, plus b) I don’t remember its ins and outs that well (a problem that I probably wouldn’t have if I were reading these all in one go, rather than spaced out by a year).
So as I’m reading this book, I understand it, I know what’s going on at any moment. But if you had interrupted me from my reading and asked me why the characters were doing what they were doing, I’m not sure I would have had an answer for you. They’re… um, following up on clues, probably? I don’t know, who cares.
So from my perspective it’s just a lot of them going places and doing things for no really great reason, as they try to unravel a plot whose complexities I don’t remember, and work to capture a villain I don’t give a shit about.
It’s a testament to my fondness for these characters (and to Aaronovitch’s writing, I suppose) that I lightly enjoyed this book rather than just noping out entirely. The good news is that I’m optimistic the next book will be about something else more to my liking.
James Alan Gardner’s They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded is the second of his superheroes vs. vampires novels. I liked the first book a lot—it had verve and energy, and combined an interesting plot with a solid character arc. This one isn’t quite as good, though.
It still has the energy and style, right, which means that at the very least it’s a light fun read, and I’m always up for that. And the plot was okay—a little shaggier than the first one, with some story detours in the middle that end up kind of making the plot structure feel a bit lumpy and back-loaded—but basically engaging and all.
But the character arc was a bit off. So this series is about a group of friends who get superpowers and become a team, right. And the first book focused on one of them, and had a whole psychological journey for that character. And so this book focuses on a different character, and it starts off setting up the problems that this character is going to have to confront over the course of the novel. Okay, cool.
But then… the problems either don’t get resolved, or get resolved in extremely unsatisfactory ways. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but we’re talking like “wave a magic wand to solve your personal problems” level of plotting here. The only way it really works at all is if I’m misunderstanding the structure of this series, if it’s not supposed to be a book per character, and actually this character’s arc is going to continue on into future books, so we haven’t actually seen their third act yet and the magic solution isn’t really a meant to be a solution at all.
So I guess we’ll wait and see about that. But I will still be reading, because even with a questionable character arc structure, this was still some good solid fun, and I’m interested in where the series is going.
Nisi Shawl’s Everfair is an alternate history, all right, and it’s got the dirigibles to prove it. But it’s not another WW2 or American Civil War alt-history; it’s diverging from Leopold II’s atrocities in the Congo in the late 19th/early 20th century, with the founding of the nation of Everfair.
As an alternate history, this one is heavy on the “history.” Its characters are the kind of people that history is made out of: complicated, flawed as hell, brilliant at times, occasionally very stupid, and driven by their own idiosyncratic interests that are often pulling them in different directions even from their friends and allies. This may not be the history of our world, but it feels like the history of some world.
This is actually maybe the one weakness of the book, too: It does span decades, and it doesn’t do it in a few big chunks, it does it chapter by chapter. Every time you have a chapter break, you might be skipping ahead by hours, weeks, or years. This can be disconcerting if you’re not paying attention; at first I was ignoring the dateline, as fantasy novels have trained me to find them worthless, and was getting very confused.
But even once you’ve realized what’s going on, it can still cut against narrative momentum and sap the tension out of scenes, as you’ll be getting up to a big crisis point, and then you cut to a year and a half later and a whole new set of characters, who mention in passing that oh yeah, that happened. (The positive side of this, though, is that it doesn’t wallow in things that we already know—lightly skipping through World War I, for instance, cuts out a lot of slog.)
Recommended for anyone looking for Victorian steampunk alt-history that doesn’t skip blithely over the awfulness of Victorian normpunk regular history.
Madeline Miller’s Circe follows on her biography of Patroclus by telling the life story of the famous Greek witch. I had mentioned that The Song of Achilles was genuinely mythical, with real gods and magic, and that’s all the more true here, where Circe is a goddess, born of Titans.
If you’re like me, you’re now wrinkling your forehead like, “wait, are we talking about the witch who turns Odysseus’s men into pigs? That Circe?” Yep! Turns out that she actually pops up a lot in classical literature after Homer created her—she’s in Hesiod, she’s in Ovid, she’s in lost plays by Aeschylus, actual living Romans claimed to be descended from her, and so on. I’d link to the Wikipedia page, but if you’re not familiar with all the stories, they might actually be reasonably considered spoilers, for all that they’re centuries old.
Because what Miller does is to take all this material from this classical shared universe, which is about as retconned and inconsistent as the Marvel Universe (where Jack Kirby created the Eternal Sersi, by the way), and turns it into a story that works as a single unified whole, and that not only turns all this hodge-podge into a coherent narrative, but gives it thematic unity, psychological depth, and a compelling character arc or three.
As good as The Song of Achilles was (and it was excellent), this is even better. If you have any interest in classical Greek literature and mythology, this is basically mandatory reading; even if you don’t, it’s still strongly recommended, because it’s just that good.
Writing up the previous Ethshar book, I talked about how a strength of the series is its ability to jump from the epic to the low-key, and that’s definitely at play in Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Stone Unturned.
As the book starts, we have three plotlines, with three sets of characters, and it’s not at all clear what the relationship between them is. It becomes a bit clearer once you realize that you shouldn’t just ignore those datelines at the top of every chapter—which, quick tangent: I really super-wish writers wouldn’t put chapter-heading dates in books that go in straight linear order, because then I just get used to ignoring them and don’t realize that they’re significant when they’re critical to understanding a non-linear book—and of course eventually they converge, in a way.
Right there, you’ve got an Ethshar book that’s on the intricate and involved side, but it goes on to set up even more puzzles to be resolved, with some large-scale magics in play. The end result is a pretty major book in the series, although not as world-changing as a handful of others.
This is like the mumbleteenth entry in the series, so really there’s not a whole lot to say that I haven’t said before; but yeah, I like these books, and the way they give a kind of light puzzle feel to an epic fantasy world. Recommended.