Tag Archives: book review

Meg Elison’s Road to Nowhere series

You know how when you finish reading a really really good book, you want to read another book right away?  So you pick up a new book but put it back down after a few paragraphs, and you open another book but close it quickly, too.  And you realize that your head is still full of the really really good book, and you’ll have to wait for it to clear.

Reading Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife followed by its companion novel The Book of Etta did that to me.

The two books, which constitute the first two parts in The Road to Nowhere series, are satisfying on many levels.

The books explore gender both overtly and subtly, as it affects the characters and societies and plot.  In the fragmented groups that the main character in each book encounters, we get to see a variety of responses to the scarcity of women caused by the worldwide plague.  Those responses seem natural because Elison handles them deftly; they unfold as organic elements, supported by solid worldbuilding and thorough character development.  And each of them shows us something different than the others, something complex, about gender, personhood, difference, and agency in our societies today.  Many of the responses pose questions.  Some questions are answered, and some are perhaps unanswerable.

The books have heart.  The characters are round and full of life; their emotions feel real, sometimes surprising but always true, even when the characters are hiding or struggling with truth.

The books’ prose balances detail and restraint; meaningful detail is sometimes purposefully underplayed, which rewards close reading and offers the attentive reader the pleasure of fitting puzzle pieces into place.

This review may sound stuffy and academic and clumsy, but I promise you, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife and The Book of Etta are deeply personal and mesmerizing.

Review: The Gathering Edge

51LqK3wUyIL.jpgI’ve long been a fan of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden novels, and their latest, The Gathering Edge, doesn’t disappoint.

It’s a pleasure to watch Theo grow into her role as captain, fully bonded to her AI ship, Bechimo. I’ve no doubt she’ll continue to grow in interesting ways as the edge continues to gather. Certainly she has the makings of a delm. And Hevelin–that noble norbear makes me smile and cheer … and be a bit afraid. And Joyita, it’s so very cool to see that AI develop as an individual so distinct from Bechimo.

One of the many things I enjoy about this novel is that, while tying together threads in many of the more recent books, it focuses almost entirely on Theo and her immediate company. That singular focus supports strong character development and underscores the ways in which Theo’s crew (really, they are more like a family — or clan) come together and interlock, supporting one another.

If none of the above makes sense to you, then this book isn’t the place to start exploring the Liaden Universe. But explore that universe, yes, indeed, you should.

Review: A Shifter, a Vampire, and a Fae Walk into a Bar

Book_Final_lr_6x9-200x300.jpgThe light-hearted tone and good-hearted characters in Thianna D.’s A Shifter, a Vampire, and a Fae Walk into a Bar make this romantic fantasy novel a delightful read, especially if you’re in a bad mood and just want to get away from it all. The heroine is a human, the hero is a shapeshifter who can take wolf form (“not a werewolf”, he insists), and the secondary characters include vampires, fae, demons, warlocks, and other supernatural beings, which makes an entertaining mix. This is the first book in a series, and much of the plot centers on the main characters coming together and becoming closer, creating their own little family of friends and eventually a home for themselves beyond space and time. Because the characters are so likable, it’s easy to root for them to succeed, and it’s easy to see why they are drawn to one another.

This isn’t a novel full of frustrating drama or deep angst or deadly danger, and the romance isn’t stuffed with endless longing or heated sex scenes. Instead, the book is soothingly humorous, and the sex is mostly off-screen and sweet. This is one of those novels that makes the world a little brighter.

John Scalzi and John Steakley

I just finished reading John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, a nominee for the 2006 Hugo award, and found myself comparing it to John Steakley’s Armor, published in 1984, which I read a few months ago.

Scalzi’s work is an entertaining read very much in the Heinlein tradition, as noted in the cover blurb by Publisher’s Weekly. The novel’s view of combat is rather blithe; despite relentless battles against aliens on all fronts, an apparently unwinnable war that will span generations, the beheading and maiming and death of various comrades, and the considerable physical damage done to the first-person narrator-soldier, that soldier, Perry, remains psychologically healthy. (The closest he comes to a crisis is feeling like an “inhumane monster” for a few pages, but that feeling is dispensed with easily.) Though he has the option of easier assignments, he asks to return to combat, which he acknowledges himself to be “strangely good” at (311). He is honored for his exploits, and the book ends with the promise of love and a good life tending fields of grain after his eventual retirement.

In contrast, Steakley’s work is far more unsettling. Like Old Man’s War, Armor features endless battles against deadly aliens, and the warrior Felix is likewise strangely good at combat, but Steakley depicts the psychological consequences of war far less blithely, showing how Felix becomes “The Engine” in order to survive. Felix fears, he expects to die, he weeps, he hates, as over and over again he is thrust back into combat by a glitch in the system—and he faces it, encased in a black suit of battle armor. Comrades die, friends die; in battle, he fights on, and after the battle, he reacts. And at the end of the book, well, I can’t spoil the ending, but I’ll take a quote from the final page: “There is no protection from what you want” (426).

I am not a habitual reader of military science fiction, and I’ve never fought in a war, but Felix reminds me of the one Vietnam War veteran I knew well, and Armor affects me more deeply and seems more layered than Old Man’s War.