rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Aug. 20th, 2013 01:48 pm)
Sherwood Smith has a new book out, Lhind the Thief. I haven't read it yet, but she says it contains "disguises, flying, swashbuckling on land and sea, tree-houses, secrets, telepathy, magical powers and spells, food, good-looking villains as well as heroes, and even some romance." You can buy it for $4.50 at Amazon (Lhind the Thief) or at Book View Cafe, where the authors get 95% of the money (Lhind the Thief). That is my hand on the cover, attempting to launch a new career as a hand model.

Melinda Lo's delicious YA science fiction thriller Adaptation - think X-Files with a teenage bisexual heroine-- is a Kindle daily deal at $2.99. Do not click on the links for her upcoming sequel or on her upcoming promotional novella unless you want to get spoiled for everything! However, if you click on my author tag for her, you will be linked to a review with the spoiler-cut intact. Adaptation.

Read anything good lately?
The scribes have three rules.

First Rule: Do not interfere.

Second Rule: Keep The Peace.

Third Rule: Tell the truth as we see it.

I can see your ironic faces, those of my judges who know that I began life as a scribe. This, my defense testimony, shall show how I tried not to interfere, that I meant to keep The Peace, and I will reveal the means that enables me to tell the absolute truth.

I will begin with the first important day of my life, just before the Hour of Daybreak, the spring I turned fourteen.

That's the opening of Sherwood Smith's latest novel, Banner of the Damned, in which the young scribe Emras learns her craft and becomes wise in the ways of her own extremely complex and refined culture... but not wise at all in some other, very important ways.

I excerpted the opening paragraphs because they suggest one of the most interesting and unusual features of the novel, its narrator of uncertain reliability and its use of her narrative as both the main story and a frame story. As the story continues, Emras recounts not only events for which she was not present, but, like the author of a work of fiction, becomes a semi-omniscient narrator who can convey exactly what other people were thinking and feeling. How could she possibly know? She'll explain, she assures us. In good time...

The novel takes place several hundred years post-Inda. You don't have to have read those books - it stands on its own - but some things have extra resonance if you know what came before. The worldbuilding is some of the best I've seen in fantasy, from the elegant intricacy of Colend to the warrior culture of Marloven Hesea, and the depictions of culture clashes and culture shock are dead-on. There's great characterization of a large ensemble cast, romance, heartbreak, magic, war, women being badass with a bow on the battlefield or with the devastating tilt of a fan at court, and and lots and lots of political intrigue.

Emras is asexual in a culture in which that is accepted as normal, like any other sexual orientation. While she has troubles and angst involving her orientation and how it affects her relationships, they're the same sort of troubles and angst any young person might have as they discover and grow into their identity. It's very well-done.

Please consider this a recommendation, not a review. I beta-read this novel. So take it as you will, given my bias, when I tell you that it's awesome and you should run out and read it.

Banner of the Damned

Sherwood is signing at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, at 2:30 on April 15th. I'll be there if anyone wants to get coffee or something afterward. (Not before; I'll be driving straight in from a trauma workshop at Antioch.)
rachelmanija: (Fishes: I do not see why the sex)
( Nov. 30th, 2011 12:32 pm)
[Poll #1799574]

Final paper is looming terrifyingly on the horizon. I have limited time this week, and it is due Monday. I have widely varying knowledge on the topics I listed on the poll, but I would have to do substantial research for any of them. So if anyone has tips like, "This one slim volume is the single best resource on the soul-figure/asexuality/fisting which can be read in a short period of time," please go for it! (These are not all the possible topics. They're drawn from a much longer list, whittled down considerably by factors like lack of interest and the phrase "object relations," which in my very short experience so far tends to point to excessively eye-glazing articles.)

I got so frazzled last week that I misread the due date for the final paper for another class, and madly wrote and turned it in yesterday... a week early. I guess that turned out to be a good thing, all things considered.

Also, I have to register for classes tomorrow and am worried that I won't be able to get into the classes I am most dying to take, now that I know who the best professors are.

Given my current state of stress-driven absent-mindedness, I should probably mention now, since it randomly popped into my mind, that there is a new Sarah Tolerance book out! I have my own copy of The Sleeping Partner: A Sarah Tolerance Mystery, and am saving it for the winter break, when I will have more relaxed time to read. Also, Sherwood Smith's Blood Spirits (Coronets and Steel), sequel to Coronets and Steel, is out! I read it in manuscript, and it is excellent. Both series will satisfy all your "women who fight with swords amidst a background of history and intrigue" needs.

ETA: Okay, I'm doing fisting. I found the Pat Califia essay I had recalled. It's called "Gay Men, Lesbians, and Sex," and it's worth reading. On Google Books. If anyone has further good fisting resources, online or offline, keep them coming!
It is so fun being able to download books and carry them with me in a device which turns on instantly and is lighter than most paperbacks! I used to read sf where people had portable pocket libraries and be so envious. I am probably getting more enjoyment out of my Kindle than I would out of the much-mourned rocket cars.

Most of E. Nesbit's fantasy is available for free, including Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet. Classic fantasy, still quite funny and readable, though attitudes about race, gender, class, and other political issues were in many ways typical for an English person writing in 1900. (In other ways she was quite radical, as she was a socialist and had an open marriage in 1880.) The Story of the Amulet, in particular, has some scenes of remarkable power and beauty. "We'll sail her straight for the Dragon Rocks."

There are a bunch of versions of the Mahabharata, though unfortunately I'm not familiar with most of the ones available on Kindle. I have to link Krishna Dharma's Mahabharata, though, because it has a highly indignant comment protesting the author's anti-Kaurava and pro-Pandava bias, noting, "I mean, I'm not saying the Pandavas weren't great, but come on! The Kauravas are villified to a point where it's annoying to read the tirades against them. For instance, we always hear "That sinful blind king and his foolish brain-dead evil horrible unintelligent demonic son Duryodhana will surely reap the consequences of their actions, surely destiny is all-powerful, it must all be arranged by providence." The comment was written by none other than Duryodhana! I had not realized that he had an Amazon account.

I also note Wren Journeymage (Wren Series), by Sherwood Smith, sequel to her Wren to the Rescue books, available only in e-book format. $4.99.

Sherwood has got quite a lot of books on Kindle, some only available as e-books, some simply good deals. For instance, her classic Crown Duel and A Posse of Princesses at $3.99, and a revised and polished re-launch of her space opera Exordium (with Dave Trowbridge), The Phoenix in Flight (Exordium), at $4.99.

While browsing Suzanne Brockmann's titles, I discovered this: When Tony Met Adam (Short Story). A new gay romance! I really admire her willingness to push the boundaries of the normally exclusively-straight genre romance market.

There are some nice deals ($4.90) on Rosemary Sutcliff titles I haven't read, Frontier Wolf, The Mark of the Horse Lord, and Knight's Fee. Has anyone read any of these? How are they?

Finally, Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Surrender (Demon's Lexicon) is out! Though I plan to buy it in print.
This post was not only prompted by a remarkably stupid NY Times review of the "Game of Thrones" TV series, in which the reviewer thought the story was a polemic against global warming, claimed that women don't like fantasy, and further claimed that women do love sex, so the sex was gratuitously crammed in to please them.

It was also prompted by curious fact that while many of the most successful, and by successful I mean bestselling, writers of YA fantasy and sf are women writing under clearly female names, and most of the bestselling writers of urban fantasy are women writing under female names, most of the bestselling writers of epic/high fantasy are men or women writing under male or ambiguous names.

To quickly define terms, by "urban fantasy" I mean "Set in contemporary world much like ours, but in which magic and/or magical creatures exist. Typically involves romance, fighting evil, and/or detecting." By "epic fantasy," I mean "Set in non-contemporary world which is not just our world plus magic or an alternate history of our world, big sprawling stories, typically a series of fat volumes, typically involves a huge cast of characters, war, battles, monarchies, and politics. Typically set in a vaguely medieval period."

I have some questions for you all.

1. Am I correct that the bestselling writers of epic fantasy are typically male or writing under possibly-male names? I'm thinking of Robin Hobb (woman writing under possibly-male name), Patrick Rothfuss, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Brian Sanderson, Tad Williams, Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, etc.

I am under the impression that the female authors writing under clearly female names, like Kate Elliott, Katherine Kerr, are midlist or at least not hugely bestselling authors.

Anomalies: Jacqueline Carey - bestselling, I think, but clearly female. Gender of names may not be clear to readers: Sherwood Smith, Mercedes Lackey. I think Sherwood is considered a midlist writer, while Lackey is maybe in between midlist and bestseller?

2. Is epic fantasy really read more by men than by women? In general, women read far more than men do. Is epic fantasy an exception? I would love to see some actual figures here, because I honestly have no idea.

3. Do male or male-seeming epic fantasy authors get a bigger marketing push from the publishers? Are readers more willing to buy their books? Why is this different from urban fantasy and YA fantasy? (Maybe the latter are considered "less serious," because of the association with romance and teenagers, and so the proper province of women?)

(I don't even ask, "Is epic fantasy by women reviewed less?" because we already know that answer. All fiction by women is reviewed less than fiction by men. One of many statistical breakdowns to that effect here.)

ETA: A brief reading list of non-bestselling female writers of epic fantasy:

Sherwood Smith: Overview: Yo, epic fantasy authors. I'm real happy for you, and I'mma let you finish (uh, sorry, George R. R. Martin, I swear that was not a dig) but Sherwood Smith has already written one of the best epic fantasies of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Buy on Amazon: Inda

Kate Elliott: Cold Magic (The Spiritwalker Trilogy)

Mary Gentle: A Secret History: The Book Of Ash, #1

Michelle Sagara: Cast in Shadow (The Chronicles of Elantra, Book 1)

P. C. Hodgell: The God Stalker Chronicles

Judith Tarr: The Hound and the Falcon: The Isle of Glass, The Golden Horn, and The Hounds of God

Barbara Hambly: Dragonsbane: The Winterlands Series (Book One) (Note: This book stands on its own, and is a perfect work of art on its own. For the love of God, AVOID THE SEQUELS.)

Laurie Marks: Fire Logic (Fire Logic)

N. K. Jemisin: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy)

Katherine Kerr: Daggerspell (Deverry Series, Book One)
Fandoms I am considering nominating (click on tags to find what I've written about them before):

New to Yuletide:

George R. R. Martin's "Thousand Worlds" space opera stories.

Lois Duncan's psychic kids boarding school YA Down A Dark Hall.

John Woo's film Red Cliff.

Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon.

Vonda N. McIntyre's post-apocalyptic novel about healing, snakes, and biological engineering, Dreamsnake.

Nominated in previous years:

Peter O'Donnell's comic strip and novels about the woman in my icon, Modesty Blaise.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern.

Sherwood Smith's Inda series.

Ann Maxwell's space opera Fire Dancer.

Is anyone thinking of requesting any of these? What are you all thinking of nominating?
Disclaimer: I am not only friends with Sherwood Smith, but sometimes collaborate with her. So though I had no hand in these books other than a little proofreading, I’m mentioning my closer-than-usual connection with the author anyway.

Sherwood is probably best-known for her YA fantasies like Crown Duel (Crown Duel / Court Duel), but the Inda series is adult fantasy.

This series, which begins with Inda, is so very epic that I will not attempt a plot summary (and don’t want to spoil some excellent surprises), except to say that it focuses on and spirals out from Inda, a boy (and young man, and man) who is involved in military training, political intrigue, family intrigue, piracy, magic, war, diplomacy, sea battles, land battles, and some notably complex relationships.

The first book, in which he’s a boy at a rather abusive military academy, was a bit difficult for me to get into at first due to the incredible number of characters, many of whom have proper names, nicknames, and titles. While all the major and many of the minor characters are vivid and memorable, a combination of plausible linguistics making a number of titles and names sound similar, and the sheer hugeness of the cast, made it hard to keep track of who was betraying, killing, or marrying whom at times. A cast of characters would have been helpful, but only appears at the back of book four.

However, if you persevere (or just have a better memory than me), the series offers great rewards. There’s no cliché Dark Lord, but rather a whole lot of real-seeming people plausibly driven by conflicting motives. The worldbuilding is incredibly solid and has a lot of originality, with an interesting blend of gritty realism and some utopian changes wrought by magic. The battles, of which there are lots, are inventive and exciting.

There’s an unusual amount of thought given to gender roles. Some cultures are egalitarian, but in others men and women have separate spheres… but the work isn’t necessarily divided up the way one might expect. This series also has one of the most successful attempts I’ve seen at making the domestic sphere feel as genuinely important as the more obviously exciting one of war. There are several awesome old women, not to mention little girls (and boys) combining heroism and childishness is a very plausible manner.

I especially liked the way that sex, sexuality, and gender roles are handled: there’s no conception of religious guilt over sex, but emotions still tie people up in knots; gay, lesbian, poly, and open relationships are not unusual, though personal orientation and feelings must sometimes be set aside or compromised for marriage alliances; the sex scenes, though not graphic, are hot; and the whole matter of love and sex is treated in an unusually mature and realistic manner.

Also, pirates! Secret societies of women! Vikings! Last stands! And more pirates!

For those of you who have read the books, I just wanted to mention that Tau is my favorite, with Jeje a close second. No matter how prominently either of them figured, I always wanted more.

The final book, Treason’s Shore, brings all the outstanding plot threads and character relationships to a very satisfying conclusion. Even more impressively, it manages to embody a number of the series’ most significant thematic concerns in compelling action: people with seemingly little importance or power may have extremely significant roles to play, birth is as meaningful as death, diplomacy is an important and suspenseful as violence, everything is interconnected and all actions have consequences in the “a butterfly flaps its wings and causes a storm a thousand miles away” sense, and learning, healing, connection, and redemption are always possible should you live long enough and choose to seek out such things – and sometimes come as grace unsought.


The Fox

The King's Shield (Inda, Book 3)

Treason's Shore: Book Four of Inda


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