rachelmanija: (Default)
( Sep. 8th, 2013 11:52 am)
'Tis the time to start contemplating your Yuletide randoms! See schedule at the bottom of the post.

I'm not sure how many nominations we'll get, as some of the rules still seem in flux. But here's what I'm preliminarily thinking of. Click on author's names to see my posts on the originals.

Top Chef Masters. Invent a fun challenge or do a reunion or set the whole thing on Pern or Perelandra; I would just like to read luscious descriptions of food plus amusing interaction featuring one or more of my favorite chefs. If I can nominate four, I'd nominate Susan Feniger, Anita Lo, Susur Lee, and Sang Yoon. (I now am desperate to go to Sang Yoon's Lukshon; has anyone been to it?)

The Rifter, by Ginn Hale. God only knows if anyone doing Yuletide would have actually read this, but I would enjoy a story featuring John, Kyle, Rousma, and/or Pesha. If you don't remember the latter, she was the teenage lesbian teleporter. I liked her and would have enjoyed an entire book about her teleporting around and awkwardly flirting with girls.

Flight of the Heron, by D. K. Broster. I really liked Keith and Ewen and would like to see them interacting more, with angst and hurt-comfort. And possibly swordfighting. Obviously, the structure of the book would make this challenging. (They are fated to meet exactly five times, and we see all five meetings.) I think it would have to either be a post-novel AU (like, Ewen hauls Keith on to the boat, and there is angst and hurt-comfort. And possibly swordfighting) or, as cyphomandra suggested, a space AU. ;)

Pern. There can never be enough Mirrim-and-Menolly fic.

What are you all contemplating?

Nominations: September 16th to September 23rd
Cleanup and Public Eligibility Review: September 23rd to October 7th
Signups: October 7th to October 14th
Assignments: around October 21st
Assignments Due: December 22nd
Collection Opens: December 25th
Author Reveals: January 1st
Hale’s portal fantasy The Rifter was one of my favorite books that I read this year. (I know, I have read very little this year. But it would have been one of my favorites no matter how many books I read.)

Wicked Gentlemen lacks the intensity and the epic quality of The Rifter, but has its own charms. In steampunk-ish world where the descendants of demons are an oppressed minority, Inquisition Captain Harper walks into the office of a down-on-his-luck demon detective, Belimai Sykes, to get some help with a murder case.

If that sounds like the opening to a noir, it’s because it has many of the elements of one: the teeming city, the straightlaced cop with a secret, the underworld into which the detective must descend, the narrator whose cynicism hides a tarnished and bitter idealism, the mystery whose solution reveals the social malaise at the heart of society, the sexual charge between detective and client.

But it’s a noir in which the femme homme fatale is the detective rather than the client, the romance is between two men, and the barriers between the haves and the have-nots include actual biological differences: not only to the demons have special powers (which mostly don’t do them any good) but the light of the human side of the city hurts their eyes, and the air of the demon side burns human skin.

It’s also more optimistic than most noir. The establishment may be corrupt, but it’s not such a dog-eat-dog world on an individual level. Many of the characters are quite likable. I was really rooting for the cop/criminal romance to succeed. It’s more a fantasy with a romantic angle than a romance in a fantasy world, but the romance was very well-done. (A one-night stand that becomes more.) It’s surprisingly sweet.

As in The Rifter, female characters are secondary but all have their own agendas and motivations. The language gives the cynical rhythms of noir a sensual lushness. Try the first page and see how you like it.

I should probably mention that one of the main characters is a drug addict. It’s a fantasy drug, and the reason he’s an addict involves the nature of the world and is crucial to the plot. Still, FYI.

Wicked Gentlemen
Spoilery for the entire series - seriously. And you really don't want to get spoiled for this if there's any chance whatsoever that you might read it.

I remembered something about book six (The Broken Fortress) and re-read it, and...

...how the hell did Hale do that? I don't think I've ever come across this particular use of foreshadowing before, or at least not the way she did it.

Read more... )
I completely got my money's worth of enjoyment out of this series. By the time I was approaching book nine, I didn't want it to end. But the ending was very satisfying.

There was one event in particular which was completely surprising, yet meticulously set up over ten books. There was another, also surprising yet completely set up, which caused me to email Buymeaclue a message whose non-spoilery text consisted of "OH MY GOD!!!!! Also, just opened the part where it shifts POVs and OH MY GOD I KNOW WHERE HE IS."

Now I want to read the whole thing over from the beginning. Due to the unusual structure, it will probably feel like an entirely new experience.

You can buy the whole shebang on e-book at a discount ($30 for the equivalent of four books), or in paper. However, the paper editions are in four volumes, and only two are out. You will probably end up with a mutant half-paper, half-e-book set if you attempt the latter.


I mentioned before that the series reminded me of P. C. Hodgell. By the end, it also reminded me of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime (first series.) In both, nearly all the seemingly unrelated side stories and apparently unimportant minor characters turn out to be integral to the story as a whole. Also the unusual mix of a dark world with a magic system involving some major body horror, with funny moments and a lot of very likable and even idealistic characters who don’t (necessarily) get crushed under the author’s boot.

Read more... )

These books just kept getting better and better, from an intrigueing but somewhat rough start. I’m sure they will reward re-reading.
These volumes provide all sorts of climactic, dramatic, startling action, and then a surprisingly relaxed and even sweet and sometimes funny interlude... with DOOM hanging over it.

I like how, especially in these two volumes, people generally behave reasonably and listen when people say they have something important to tell them, and sometimes change their minds when presented with new evidence. There are definitely jerks, bad people, and people being ruthless, self-destructive, and cruel. But there's very little totally random assholery.

I have read way too many recent fantasy novels in which people behave completely irrationally to serve the plot and ensure that the obvious course of action taken by the protagonists won't work. ("Screw your evidence proving that you're not the person who killed my wife and someone else is! I tear it up and drink it like a milkshake, HA HA HA!") I appreciate how Hale often has the logical course of action work, but then new obstacles or unanticipated complications arise.

Everything else is completely and utterly spoilery.

Read more... )

Enemies and Shadows (The Rifter)

The Silent City (The Rifter)
I finally figured out what this series reminds me of: P. C. Hodgell's Godstalk series. Hodgell has more black comedy and flamboyant worldbuilding, and Hale concentrates much more on weaving a highly intricate story. But both series seem to have evolved from the same roots: bypassing Tolkien's high fantasy tradition in favor of the swords and sorcery of Fritz Lieber, Jack Vance, C. L. Moore, even Robert E. Howard.

It's interesting that while the overall plots and details of the two series have very few points of similarity - the kinship is more one of tone and atmosphere - both have heroes who are avatars of the destructive aspect of a God.

Beyond that, all I can say without spoilers is that this series just gets better and better as it goes along. Book five was particularly packed with holy shit! moments.

Marie, if you're reading this, you would appreciate that the only characters who do stupid things based on sexual desire are reckless, desperate teenagers. The adults generally manage to sensibly resist doing stupid things out of sexual desire, despite extreme temptation. (Homosexuality is banned in large parts of this world.)

Read more... )

The Holy Road (The Rifter)

Broken Fortress (The Rifter)
The series continues to be engrossing. Hale uses a very unusual structure which I love and only see occasionally. I don't recall ever seeing anyone else do it with Hale's particular twist. I'll cut for a structural spoiler which is also a moderate plot spoiler - you don't realize what the structure is until the beginning of book two, I think.

Read more... )

It's so well-done and clever! I love the creeeepy magic system. The supporting characters have gotten a lot more interesting as the book goes on. I like how the villains have comprehensible motives and generally aren't too over-the-top.

My main quibble at this point is that I'd like a little more clarity on some matters, given the sheer complexity of the story; sometimes stuff is mentioned that seems important, in a way implying that I should already know about it, and I have no idea if it was poorly or just very subtly set up.

For instance, Read more... )

There are also some odd choices about what to show and what to tell. John gets a job as a magical healer's assistant. At last, he will learn some (creepy and dramatic) magic! I eagerly flip the page...

...and it's several months later and he'd already learned it and is doing it as a matter of course. I wanted to see him do it for the first time!

But, in general, this is pretty awesome. Very immersive. I like that the characters are adults who generally behave like adults (and the teenagers behave like teenagers.) The dark bits are nicely spooky, and the comedy makes me laugh. ("So you let him poison you because you thought it would be easier than breaking up with him?")

There is a great bit that I am pretty sure is a nod to The Stars My Destination.. Read more... )

Black Blades (The Rifter)

Witches' Blood (The Rifter)
In the killer hook opening to this portal fantasy, John, a gay graduate student, has a problem. He and his mysterious roommate Kyle ran into each other in a bathhouse, and fled in opposite directions. Several weeks later, Kyle still hasn't returned, and the rent is coming up. And while Kyle is extremely strange - he's covered with weird tattoos, carries around swords and knives, always keeps his room locked, and, bizarrely, claims to be a milkman - he has never failed to pay the rent on time, which makes up for all other flaws as far as John is concerned.

While John is trying to figure out what to do, a letter arrives addressed to Kyle - the first Kyle has ever received - with no return address. In a mixture of desperation and pent-up curiosity, John opens it. It contains an ornate gold key, and a sheet of paper reading, "DON'T."

Cut to Kahlil (aka Kyle), who is on a mysterious errand in his own world, carrying a bag containing a talking skeleton and gloomily musing that once he gets back to our world, he will probably get the order to kill John at any moment. When he returns to our world (just in time to pay the rent), we see it through his eyes. Everything is shockingly vibrant, intense, and beautiful... compared to where he's from.

This is one of the most engrossing and fun otherworld fantasies I've read in a while. The worldbuilding is fascinating. Kahlil's world is suffused with a sense of wrongness, but not in the grimdark way where everyone is a rapist sociopath and nobody ever has any fun. It's meticulously detailed - there's a funny scene where John sits in a bath and tries to figure out what the hell the cleaning implements and ointments are for, then finds out when the servants arrive and start cramming tooth powder into his mouth - but faded. The food has little savor, the colors are dimmed, and even the air is thin. Some catastrophe seems to have cast a magical pall over the entire landscape.

While there are horror elements (like the talking skeleton and some very creepy magic), the tone is more like old-school swords and sorcery given a modern gloss than actual horror. It's dark in parts, but playful in others. There's banter and egg-laying weasels. The plot is complex and intriguing. I assume John and Kahlil will eventually have a romance, and that they will be instrumental in restoring life to the world. But in terms of how that will happen, I have no idea. The broad outlines may be clear, but the way in which things have happened has been consistently surprising.

There are some flaws, which have not spoiled my enjoyment. Some of the supporting characters get a lot of page time but very little character development. There are a few points where characters fail to take what seems like the obvious, sensible action, for no particular reason other than that the plot needed them not to. And while parts of the story have a very real feel to them, other parts are paper-thin. In particular, John seems to have sprung out of thin air, with no school responsibilities, no family, no history, and no associates other than the ones who are central to the plot.

Still, like I said: really fun. Without getting too spoilery, I will mention that John's introduction to the world is sufficiently rocky that I initially thought, "Oh, God, this is going to be that cliched crapsack world where every single character is a total asshole and everyone is constantly getting slaughtered for no reason." That turns out to not be the case. Or, at least, so far it hasn't been.

This is an extremely long novel broken into ten parts of about 100 pages each. If you have already read this, please note that I am only on Part 2. Please do not spoil me for anything past that!

The Shattered Gates (The Rifter)

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (The Rifter)


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