Guy Gavriel Kay never fails to write exquisite prose, in my experience, and this book is no different.
Yet another venture into “Europe a quarter turn to the left,” this is the story of a man on the road from Varena to the imperial capitol of Sarantium (an alternate version of Byzantium) to decorate the newly built sanctuary of Jad there with a grand mosaic. But this book is also about mystery, about what there is behind the veil and how we here in the world are to understand our place in it.
There is, of course, almost unbearable humanity in the story, and an aching meditation on art and the artist.
This collection is a reverse chronological exploration of the nefarious Calipash family, a bloodline cursed to depravity, transformation, and dissolution. It is also a masterful exercise in parody, as it lampoons Gothic horror, novels of manners, Lovecraft, and the history of Roman Britain.
The title story, a novella of twists and turns set in a private school in faux-English civil war Oxford, and it genderbends, challenges reader assumption, and sexes things up a lot.
I drive it hard to describe exactly what I looked about this book, but I looked it a lot. The writing is pitch-perfect, adopting the voice and style of each period cleverly, and it twists the tries of the styles in just the right way to keep things interesting.
Shepherd’s Warning by Cailyn Lloyd Review of a NetGalley eARC.
This is a haunted house story in the vein of The Shining or The Amityville Horror (which is referenced explicitly in the text). The McKenzie family: Lucas and Laura, with Lucas’s brother Nathan and his wife Ashley, along with Lucas and Laura’s granddaughter Leah, arrive at the brothers’ inherited house in the Wisconsin countryside. A grand old Tudor mansion, they decide to renovate it for HGTV, but things soon take a terrifying turn. As you would expect from a horror novel.
This first book from Lloyd shows its influences on its sleeve, while working in a lot of unusual takes that would make for something refreshingly new, if so much of it wasn’t just confusing.
The Old English spells, the nearly immortal wizard, the circularity of the events are all interesting and unique. They add flavor to the book and would help it stand out a lot from the crowd, if the rest of the pacing and structure stood up to them. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like they did.
Events unfold in an awkward way, with things that seem really important at the time just fading away. For example, in one scene a young contractor falls off the roof, breaking his arm and impaling himself on a rusty piece of metal. This event IS NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN by the main characters, and only vaguely referenced by a side character (a “ghost” that made it happen). Not only that, but people continue to work on the roof without taking any safety precautions, and indeed someone falls again.
Then there’s the idea that they are renovating the house for a TV show. This dominates the situation for the first few chapters, then it’s just… Gone. No more cameras, no more interviews, no repercussions. Which could be code for the whole book: lots of things happen with no real impact.
The pacing is overall quite uneven. The book opens with a couple of big events, but then nothing really happens until halfway through. There is a lot of pointless running around, and I’ll be honest–all the “L” names warped it into one big, blonde blur.
There is also an odd insistence on specificity, especially regarding brand names, that almost reads like advertising. The main characters don’t drink beer, they drink Spotted Cow (which halfway through the book becomes italicized); the 1,000 year-old wizard doesn’t drink port, he drinks Old Tawny port; Laura doesn’t use a genealogy website, she uses Ancestry.com; Tom Wolff doesn’t wear a trucker’s cap, he wears a Purina cap. It stands out in an odd way, rather than adding any kind of realism or immediacy.
These all seem like minor points, but they build up until the text becomes a struggle. And it doesn’t help that the essential conflict centers, once again, on the corruption of the father figure through his repressed Id. Ugh. Does the father grow distant from his family because of his inability to deal with loss? Yep. Does the father fall into dissolution through alcohol? Yep! Does the father betray his wife, who just wants him to get help, and call her concern nagging and prying? Bingo! At least he wasn’t a writer.
Overall, I really struggled to finish this book, and once I did I wasn’t satisfied.
Hearthstone Cottage by Frazer Lee Review of a NetGalley eArc.
Four friends travel to the Scottish Highlands for a post graduation holiday, and of course things go terribly wrong.
Mike, a party hard kind of guy, and his girlfriend Helen begin to drift apart. Their friends Alex and Kay seem to just be along for the ride, while Alex’s sister Meggie, the vegetarian artist, haunts the fringes.
This felt like a very confused book from the beginning. It starts off like a pretty traditional “folk-horror” story, with legends of witches and creepy locals mocking the city kids, but then the growing fixation on Mike’s drinking and weed smoking starts to feel like an 80s slasher morality story.
There is plenty of chilling atmosphere and gross-out horror to satisfy the horror feels, but I honestly felt so disgusted by Mike as a character that I just didn’t care what happened to him. The tension eventually just became a sense of wanting to know how much of what was happening was actually in his head.
Then comes the end and you realize nothing at all had anything to do with what just happened, and the story falls apart.
This is a story set in the same faux-Europe as the Sarantine Mosaic series, but after Sarantium fell to the Osman Khalifate.
A mixed cast of characters from various places around the Mediterranean meet on a voyage across land and sea, but this is very much a story of people rather than the journey.
I am an incurable fan of Kay’s work. His lyricism, and his deep, seemingly endless love for humanity in all its frailty and confusion, create stories that compel every bit as much as any grand epic adventure. Fantasy does not require wizards, inhuman races, and evil empires to engage readers, for Kay understands that humanity itself is the core of every great story.
And this story is anchored indelibly in the humanity of its characters.
Throughout the various journeys in Children of Earth and Sky, we see how great things and not so great are influenced by simple human choices, but random chance, by things that no one can really explain. The characters question themselves, the world, and each other, yet still move on with the simple acts of living.
This is a novel of war without war, of human conflict and love and confusion. There is no evil empire, there is no real villain, simply people of character and conviction following the courses they have chosen, or have had chosen for them, until their ends. And the ends are the same for us all. Live goes until it goes no more.
I am not sure how to recommend a book like this, given that the basic function of fantasy seems so often to be excitement through adventure. This is not exciting, so much as it is compelling. The action is brief and mostly undescribed. There is violent conflict. There is spiritual conflict as well, and also lack of conflict altogether at times.
If an epic fantasy is sailing a great ship from origin to destination, this is a gentle float down a river. The river has its own beginning and end, but we are simply there in the middle, watching flotsam and jetsam tossed by the current.
Until the ride is over, and everything goes on without us.
This book is almost as old as I am, so it seems almost silly to review it. However, I do have thoughts, so here goes.
This is a story of vampires of a sort – ageless blood drinking creatures who seem to have evolved independently of humanity, but not the traditionally supernatural type – and a riverboat captain’s complicated relationship with them around the time of the American Civil War.
It is the kind of complex story you might expect from Martin, although it does bear some signs of immaturity of thought (for example, it’s made clear that the vampires require human blood to function fully, but it also says that they evolved long before humans did. So… What did they eat?) but what really strikes me is the way it so evokes the time and place of its setting.
It is set in the American south, in the 1850s, and it confronts the evils of slavery in a way that I find somewhat uncomfortable. The parallels between vampiric preying on humanity in general, and the way a slave society preys upon the enslaved, are hammered home almost too bluntly. And there is that scene, that brutal, almost unforgivable scene, that I think might not be publishable in today’s world. I wonder about this. I wonder if perhaps the wrapping of unnatural vampirism around this story is almost a cop-out. Because I think a story that deals with slavery needs more focus on the purely human evils of that institution, instead of muddying them with the inhuman evils of Julian Damon and is ilk.
I’m not sure. I’m really not. There is no veiled whitewashing of the institution, at all, but this kind of muddy presentation of the brutal viciousness of slavery, and the inhumanity it tries to force on the enslaved, reaches deep into places that many people don’t want to reach, while at the same time giving readers an out, a chance to focus on the viciousness of the inhuman characters and ignore the evils of the human society around them.
It’s a book worth reading, and thinking critically about, at any rate.
This is the story of Meche, the woman and the girl, in Mexico city. As a women she returns for her father’s funeral and reluctantly deals with family and friends. As a girl, she struggles her awkward way through high school, ignoring homework and generally not getting along with people. Her family is dysfunctional, her friends are weird, and she learns how to do magic.
I struggled so much to like this book. It is well structured, and the writing is smooth and often very fluid. But lord, the characters are so trite and tedious. The main character, Meche, is sulky and nerdy and the same as every other math-obsessed, sulky nerd in every other teen book. The problem is, she’s the same as an adult! She’s utterly insufferable.
Her friends are the same– the poor kid who escapes toxic masculinity into books and gets called names for it. The chubby rich girl princess whose parents (gasp!) love her and don’t want her to fall in with a bad crowd.
It took me forever to finish this tiny book because I kept rolling my eyes and shaking my head at the stupid, stupid kids who were just as stupid and clumsy as they grew up. I liked nothing about a single character in this book, except that Meche’s father has pretty good taste in music.