My section of the annual 2020 in review roundup has been up at Strange Horizons for a few weeks. With the inauguration behind us and Lunar New Year on the horizon, I finally feel like 2021 is here.
Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan
My review of Tim Maughan’s Infinite Detail (2019) is up at Strange Horizons. I’m very pleased with this review, and I think this is the rare case where a long delay (I pitched it in the fall of last year, things happened, I got the assignment just before the March lockdown, and then quarantine brain happened) has actually helped make the book’s strengths more appreciable. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it highly.
Air Logic, by Laurie J. Marks
Hello from the new world of quarantine. My review of Laurie J. Marks’ final Elemental Logic novel, Air Logic, is up at Strange Horizons. I can’t recommend these books enough, and I think their prickly, cozy, queer message about perseverance and making a better world out of the ruins of the old is pretty on point for these times. Wash your hands and stay safe.
2019 in Review
My tranche of the 2019 in Review post is up at Strange Horizons. I realize now that I should have concluded my submission by mentioning the semi-canonical backstory in which the goose drove Margaret Thatcher out of England, and encouraging readers to do the same to Boris Johnson. I’m also kicking myself for not mentioning Neon Genesis Evangelion–but other people picked up the slack, so it’s okay.
Here’s hoping for a better 2020 for all of us, and for the world.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My review of Gods of Jade and Shadow went up at Strange Horizons in September. In retrospect I wouldn’t have minded a little more Jazz in this Jazz Age novel, but it was very enjoyable all the same.
The Michelle West novels: Suggested reading order
With the publication of the final two novels in Michelle West’s House War series this year (Firstborn and War), respectively, I’ve embarked once again on my quest to talk these books up to other people. In particular, if you like West’s Chronicles of Elantra series, written under her other penname Michelle Sagara, I think you’ll like the West aka Essalieyan novels too. For more on why I think these books are great, and why the conclusion to the House War in particular has been very satisfying, you can read my review of the previous entry in the series, Oracle, at Strange Horizons.
It’s the perfect time to start reading these books, as West has already sold the first four books in the final series in the universe (currently titled The Burning Crown), but the absolute earliest we could expect to see the first one would be 2021. Plus, there are currently 16 books in the series, so that’s a lot to catch up on.
That quantity, and the fact that the series began twenty-five years ago, also leads to the question of where someone who does want to read these books should start. (Note: all links go to West’s website, where she has assembled buying links for each book so I don’t have to.)
Where to start?
There are, roughly, three main storylines in the Essalieyan universe, which is converging towards the end of the world over the course of the story: that of Essalieyan and its capital city Averalaan, where most of the action takes place; the Western nation of Breodanir, which follows a different god and has different customs, ruled by the Hunters and their Huntbrothers; and in the South, the Dominion of Annagar, which views the Northern gods with suspicion. Jewel Markess ATerafin is the main protagonist of the Essalieyan storyline, and of the House War sequence. Breodanir is the subject of The Sacred Hunt, and the Dominion plays a starring role in The Sun Sword.
The difficulty comes in with the fact that the first three books of The House War precede or take place concurrently with all of the other books. So the following reading order is constructed with an eye towards minimizing spoilers and readerly whiplash due to jumping back and forth between books published in the mid-1990s and the end of the 2010s. West’s style has evolved markedly over the course of the series, becoming a more effective version of itself, and the difference is particularly noticeable between the first two books and all the others. All are published by DAW.
2018 in Review, belatedly
Somehow I forgot to link my portion of the Strange Horizons 2018 in Review on this blog. If you’re looking for things to read and watch at the solstice, you could do a lot worse than check out all three parts.
The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie
I got to review Ann Leckie’s fifth novel for Strange Horizons recently and I was extremely happy about it. I love Leckie, and this book was an interesting twist on her established themes. It’s also Hamlet as retold by a rock, but the rock is the actual protagonist of the story, and it was great. I’ve seen some people perhaps not quite grasp that; I’ve also seen people say they couldn’t get into the book. I can see how that could be the case, but I was immediately gripped by the question of how the two halves of the story fit together. It’s great, and if you were put off the Radch books for whatever reason, this is a great, very different book to read.
A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland
My review of A Conspiracy of Truths went up at Strange Horizons a few months back. I’m a fan of the author’s podcast (although, as with most things in life, I’m woefully behind on it), and I picked up this novel out of a desire to support her. I wound up really enjoying this “fantasy of fake news” quite a lot, even if its take on a “fantasy of fake news” isn’t quite what I expected from the elevator pitch.
You will note that the review doesn’t engage at all with the hopepunk discourse, which blew up while I was writing it. This was a deliberate choice on the part of me and my editor at Strange Horizons. Since nobody is paying me to write here, and since my morning coffee hasn’t fully metabolized yet, I will just say that I find the concept of hopepunk desperately undertheorized, which is a fancy way of saying “not framed with anywhere near enough conceptual rigor.” I will also say that I’m with AOC (always)–I think hope is something you have to do and be rather than waiting for it to come to you externally.
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang
My review of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang went up at Strange Horizons a few weeks ago.
I have at least three hands of feelings about this book, and not all of them made it into the review, which I wrote several months ago. In the interim, I’ve continued talking with people about it, and I’ve been able to articulate some of the things which were still inchoate for me while I was writing the review.