Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

So…I accidentally skipped a week of posting for, I believe, the first time ever. Sorry about that ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Things got, and remain, a little out of control.

In other news, I have just finished a most wonderful book! The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Image result for the long way to a small angry planet

What a book! The moment I finished it I hopped on Goodreads, gave it 5 stars, and marked it as a favorite. I am psyched to read the next one, A Closed and Common Orbit. 

This was the first book that I’ve ever read on the Kindle app. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. It was handy to have the book constantly with me, but the screen just doesn’t fit enough words to make me feel like I’m making progress, which is why it took me an oddly long time to finish the book.

The Long Way follows the small crew of a ship that punches wormholes through space. It rotates POV quite often, and for once it didn’t bother me unduly. There wasn’t much about this book that I didn’t love, and I shall use a handy tool known as listing to highlight my favorite aspects.

  1. The worldbuilding. Holy lord, the worldbuilding. The alien species. Their history. The Galactic Commons. What a work of art. All alien species were suitably alien, and suitably fantastic. Down to fascinating biological and inter-species history, Chambers built an immersive, fantastic, bizarre universe.
  2. The romance. Interspecies romance done right is fascinating, and this book does it right. What was fascinating to me was how much Chambers was able to convey about the cultures of various species, exploring romantic compatibility and hangups with other species, in a relatively short amount of time.
  3. Non-human centric. Too often sci-fi smacks of human exceptionalism. Not so in this book–in fact, humans are kind of the runts of the Galactic Commons. Lots of musing on the nature of humanity from various points of view, human and nonhuman. Lovely.
  4. Ethics. Lots of discussions of the ethics of various species. Maybe this should fall under worldbuilding, but it stood out to me so strongly it deserves its own number.
  5. Lastly: THE CHARACTERS! By the end of the book there was not a character that I did not feel fondly towards, even the ones I hated at first.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet feels different from other sci-fi. The tone is lighthearted: it’s a book that’s serious, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. I can’t pinpoint the exact type of book or tone I feel like it is, but I can only hope it’s the start of something great.

Advertisements

Review: Akata Warrior

Image result for akata warrior

A little over a year ago I read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, which zipped straight to my “favorite books of all time” list in a heartbeat. I’m late on reading Akata Warrior, the sequel, only because my library just got it in! I saw it on the shelf, did a complete double-take, and grabbed it before someone else in the completely empty library could.

Akata Warrior wasted no time in immersing me in Sunny Nwazue’s world: the hidden magical side of Nigeria. Once again Okorafor’s outstanding worldbuilding made me fall in love with Sunny’s environment–Leopard Knocks is right up there with Diagon Alley on places I desperately want to visit. One of the coolest parts of the world, in my opinion, is that magical currency drops from the sky when the characters learn or understand something knew–they are rewarded for intelligence and diligence. Another element I loved was the increased time in the spirit world, including Sunny’s relationship with her spirit face, Anyanwu. Very, very cool.

One odd thing about this book, however, were quite a few copyediting errors. One or two I can brush off. But the typos and formatting errors in Akata Warrior were frequent enough to make me frustrated with whoever was supposed to fix those. I also feel the continuity of this book suffered compared to Akata Witch. Elements of the plot and characterization needed to be introduced earlier in the book. It felt more episodic than contiguous.

But don’t let these issues stop you from going at Akata Warrior with gusto! It is on the whole a delightful, rich work, that I truly enjoyed. One of the things I liked the most is how Sunny and co. are not exempt from the rules of magical conduct, which are strict. They face judgment and punishment for their actions, and these consequences seriously affect the actions they choose to take. Leaning the rules of her new world along with Sunny, and learning when to bend and break them, is a truly delightful experience. I am eagerly awaiting a third book in the series!

On another note, I leave for Ecuador on Thursday. If I have wifi, then get ready for a month of posts from abroad! If not, I will have scheduled posts as a back up, full of writing resources. Here’s to several days of frantic last-minute packing!

Mini Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

cover.jpg

I finally read Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones! The movie has been one of my favorites for ages, and I was really hoping the book would live up to my hopes…which it did! All of the characterizations were very different, but the plot is remarkably the same. It was the oddest feeling as I read the book and saw the movie scenes play out in my mind, startlingly accurate. If only all books could have movie adaptations so faithful.

My favorite part of the book? Sophie, of course. What a wonderful character. So curmudgeonly that when she becomes and old woman, she takes to it like a fish to water. Actually, it’s as if being old gives Sophie the excuse to act as she’s always wanted. Though it’s a curse, it’s strangely liberatory. And very inspiring.

Another aspect of the book (and movie) I love is that so much of it is just day-to-day events. The plot moves along rather gently: we see it through windows, out doors, and from second-hand reports, but for the most part Sophie’s point of view takes place from the eye of the storm. It’s a mode of storytelling I don’t think would fly if it was published today, and that’s pretty unfortunate, because it’s a stellar book.

So now I have to go watch the movie again, obviously.

Book Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us

Just last week I posted my 2018 Reading Resolutions, and here I am, one down already! In a stroke of luck my university library had The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, which immediately drew me to it with promises of lesbian pirates raising sea monsters. On all three of those counts, I was not disappointed.

To get right into the plot, protagonist Cas was raised into the industry of Reckoner training: sea monsters that protect ships in a post-apocalyptic world where pirates target cargo crossing the NeoPacific Ccean. On her first solo mission, Cas’ reckoner is killed and she is taken hostage in order to raise a Reckoner pup which the pirate captain Santa Elena has mysteriously secured. Over the subsequent months, Cas must come to terms with the facts that she is falling for her watchdog/pirate-captain-in-training Swift, raising a true monster to kill those she once worked to protect, and perhaps becoming something of a monster herself.

Cas’ slow acceptance of what she creates–a man-eater–and what she becomes–a killer–is one of the best parts of this book. There are several moments in which Cas, astride Bao, her killer Reckoner, realizes she and her monster are the most dangerous things in the ocean…and she loves it. In a different book this would scare Cas into stronger moral (re)action, but in this case, she embraces it.

It’s not just that Cas comes to realize there’s a gray area between what she has always seen as good/evil. She does this. But there is also a distinct awareness on her part that piracy is nevertheless horrific, and what she is doing is horrific, and with that realization in mind she continues on instead of backing away. This, more than anything, is what sets this book apart in my eyes.

That said, she doesn’t try very hard to cling on to her previous worldview or life, and this disrupted the narrative for me a bit. Cas doesn’t seem to have any ties to her family and past life on land. They seem to have no bearing on her conscience beyond lip service. I would have been more convinced if there was a little more agonizing over the morality of her actions, or at least something in her background to explain the ease with which she accepts her about-face into piratic murder.

While this ambiguity did push me away from the story at some points, little details brought me back in. Descriptions of Cas training Bao were rich and immersive, perhaps the most so in the book. Cas’ and Swift’s relationship, which was shallo at first, quickly endeared me to it. The element I most appreciated and loved was their constant, mutual agreement of “equal footing”. Neither pursued a romantic relationship while Cas was still Swift’s captive charge, though both acknowledged romantic feelings. Fantastically done and touching.

In all, The Abyss Surrounds Us promised monsters, pirates, and romance, and delivered all three, along with an intriguing descent into gray morality. My eyes will be open for the sequel.

(P.S. from HQ: on my tumblr I am doing a giveaway of awesome swag I got at YALLFest, so if you’re interested check it out here!)

Mini Review: Treasure Island

In January I swore to read five books this year no matter what, and despite having read 57 books this year I somehow only managed to read four of the ones on the list…but I consider it a minor miracle I made it through Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was No. 2 on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a real page-turner if you aren’t listening to the $2 audiobook version. Then it’s more like a sleep-inducer, leaving you constantly wondering, “oh, is another person speaking now, I didn’t notice because all the voices are identical” and “that’s the worst parrot impression I have ever heard.”

I tried not to let it impact my overall impression of the book, but that’s a hard thing to ask. That said, the book is foundational to all pirate adventure narratives today, and looking back with some distance from the narration I did enjoy it. Perhaps my favorite moment overall was when Jim’s mother wouldn’t hurry up and leave the inn because she was too honest to take more money than she was actually owed, so she took her sweet time counting out ancient coinage as pirates actively laid siege to their home.

I thought the point of view was much too distant and that it was kind of absurd that so many random people would just declare that Jim was living with them, or sailing to find treasure, and so on, without asking either Jim or his mother. Both of those things are products of the time it was written, which was in 1882. (Ultimately, I really only wanted to read the book so I could re-watch Treasure Planet cognizant of its narrative background.)

Overall thoughts: good book, but either read it or pay $25 for a quality audiobook

Review: The Ship of the Dead

So on October 3rd I was walking through the bookstore, minding my own business, checking out the new arrivals, when I see Magnus Chase number 3, The Ship of the Dead, staring at me. My whole body went into low-level shock. My hand started shaking. I walked numbly to the cashier with a copy cradled in my arms. I knew it came out in October, but I most certainly did NOT know it came out that very day, October 3rd.

It’s the last book in the Magnus Chase trilogy, which is interesting because it did not feel like a conclusion. For one thing, it’s much shorter than the first two bricks. For another, it lack the energy of the rest of the series. The first two books literally had me glued to my seat, non-stop excitement, and The Ship of the Dead just didn’t have that.

It’s a much more character-driven book than the others as well, but, oddly, it’s not Magnus‘ character. The stars of this book are the side characters: Mallory Keen, Thomas Jefferson Junior, Halfborn Gundeson, Samirah al-Abbas, and Alex Fierro. Magnus is more the vehicle through which we appreciate their development. Plot threads that I thought would play a critical role in the finale, such as Hearthstone’s final return to his brother’s grave or Samirah’s struggle to overcome her father’s influence, felt more like episodic moments.

That said, Alex and Magnus’ relationship had me almost in tears. Perfection. Riordan’s nearly-effortless inclusion of queer characters and relationships while still providing thoughtful and poignant analysis via Magnus is inspiring. For that matter, his handling of all the diversity in Magnus Chase provides a standard we should all aspire to. And he doesn’t beat around the bush about it. Where he could have shied away from highlighting the diversity in this series, he instead embraced it. He didn’t take the easy way out and include romantic moments only when Alex identifies as a girl. There is constant positive discussion of Islam and Samirah’s practice, casual inclusion of nonbinary characters, frequent description of specific ASL signs, lipreading, and interpretation, and pertinent discussion of discrimination throughout the book.

While the conclusion to Magnus Case may not have been as non-stop and downright exceptional as the first two, it was still a hell of a book, if nothing else than for the wonderfully characterized, effortlessly diverse cast, and Riordan’s unflinching engagement with those characters’ identities.

Review: Vassa in the Night

“What did I borrow from myself, and how will I ever get it back?”–Sarah Porter, Vassa in the Night

I found this book at McKay’s Used Books, read it in two days, and foisted it onto my roommate the moment I got to school. She read it in one day–something I really should have done, because it does take fairly constant immersion/attention to hold on to all the strands of this story at once.

Vassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter, is an bizarre, whimsical, and [some other word that won’t do it justice] retelling of the Russian folktale Vassilissa the Beautiful. Only it takes place in Brooklyn, and Baba Yaga owns a murderous 24-hour chain store, and it’s one of the weirdest and most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

Any retelling of myths/folktales/fairy tales that haven’t been done a million times in the last few years immediately catch my eye, as does the striking cover. But more attention-grabbing that is the the surreal magical realism that Porter wields as if painting a watercolor.

Contained within this book is an eccentric cast of characters, even more eccentric events that will make you pause to ask if that really just happened, and a protagonist who must discover her ferocity, her history, and her missing piece, or be lost.