Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

Robert Rankin
Completed 8/25/2023, Reviewed 8/26/2023
3 stars

This book lost in a runoff vote for my book club.  It was cheap so I got it.  It was fun, but not uproariously funny.  The ideas are great, like the title.  It had a lot of good running gags.  But in the end, I felt kind of empty, sort of like eating a big puff of cotton candy.  It’s sweet and fun, but in the end, it didn’t fill you up at all.  I was glad I read it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read another book by this author. 

Jack is a farm boy who leaves for the big city.  In this case, it’s Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town.  It’s grown immeasurably since its early days.  When Jack gets there, he finds it inhabited by sentient toys.  He comes across a teddy bear named Eddie who was an assistant to the great private investigator Bill Winkie.  Winkie is missing so Eddie has taken up his latest case, finding the serial killer behind the murders of famous nursery rhyme characters.  The two team up to solve a mystery that could mean the destruction of Toy City itself.

Despite being pretty fluffy, the characterization was pretty good.  Jack and Eddie are well developed characters.  Eddie is constantly trying to be taken more seriously than a teddy bear normally would be.  And he has a word-relationship problem so he can never complete a simile.  He can only say “as good as” or “as crazy as”, never completing the thought.  Jack is also well thought out as a thirteen year old doing adult things.  Some of it’s a little questionable, like getting drunk with Eddie.  I found that disturbing.  But overall, I liked Jack.  He’s read all the Bill Wilkie pulp detective novels so he knows how to play this PI game better than Eddie.  

What I liked most about this book was that it was rather fun.  It didn’t take itself seriously.  It was a lot like Robert Asprin, although I thought Asprin was better.  It’s a bit Monty Python-esque, just not quite as good.  The author is British after all.  Some of the jokes and puns fall flat, but others work.   I give this book three stars out of five.  

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Nettle & Bone

T Kingfisher
Completed 8/19/2023, Reviewed 8/19/2023
3 stars

I really liked the byline of this book.  “This isn’t the kind of fairy tale where the princess marries the prince.  It’s the one where she kills him.”  This is a subversive novel in that sense.  It is pretty dark, but very satisfying.  The prose is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Kingfisher.  I’ve really enjoyed her work so far.  The last book of hers I read was A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which was really inventive.  This one is inventive too, but I found it a slower read.  It’s only about 250 pages, but I found I couldn’t really zip through it until the last fifty pages or so.  That’s when it really grabbed me and I fought immense drowsiness to get through the end.  This book was nominated for a 2023 Hugo, which will be announced later this year, and a 2022 Nebula.  While I think this book is pretty good, I don’t think it’s exactly award worthy.

Marra is the youngest of three princesses.  Her eldest sister is married off to the prince of the large, neighboring kingdom to the north.  She dies by “accident” less than a year later.  Then her next sister is married to the prince.  When she becomes pregnant, Marra goes to visit her.  There she finds that the prince abuses her sister.  Vowing vengeance on the prince, she completes some impossible tasks to get the favor of a gravewitch to help her in her quest.  Together with the witch, a demon-possessed chicken, a reluctant fairy godmother, a handsome former knight, and a dog made of bones, she attempts her quest to kill the abusive prince.

What I’m finding of Kingfisher is that her prose always seems to be excellent.  Even when, as in this case, the story falls a little flat, her books are always incredibly readable.  Her world building is also quite amazing.  Her system of magic in this book, which not extensive, is unique and well defined.  I was impressed by the different levels of fairy godmothers.  I also liked that Marra was able to perform the “impossible” tasks as requested by the gravewitch.  

I really liked Marra as a character.  While she vows vengeance, she’s a rather reluctant hero.  When her sisters were married off, she was sent to a convent for safe keeping in case both died and she would have to wed the prince.  She actually liked the convent.  There she joined in the chores willingly and had time for sewing and embroidery, which she loved doing.  And the sisters were kind to her, and to each other.  When she leaves the convent for her quest, she’s nervous, unsure of what she’s doing, only knowing that she must do something to help her abused sister.  

Overall, I did like the book.  I just don’t feel it should win an award.  I would however, like to read more of Kingfisher.  She reminds me for some reason of Patricia McKillip in her style, content, and length of books.  She doesn’t have to write a huge tome to get a point across.  Sometimes a sweeping saga isn’t necessary for every idea.  A short book can do just fine to give you an entertaining fantasy experience.  I give this book three out of five stars.  It’s very good and very enjoyable.    

Sunday, August 13, 2023


RF Kuang
Completed 8/13/2023, Reviewed 8/13/2023
5 stars

This is a beautifully written alternate history of the British Empire in the 1800s, where the Empire has achieved its dominion through the use of magical silver and language translation.  With themes of slavery, oppression, racism, sexism, and colonialism, it creates a personalized view of these -isms and reveals the haughty, narcissistic culture that Britian had in dealing with other nations it thought were barbaric.  It’s also a metaphor for how we as modern nations still treat other countries and peoples, particularly in this time of the rise of Karens and other insidious white supremist thinking.  This book won the 2022 Nebula, the 2023 Locus Fantasy Award, and was nominated for the 2023 World Fantasy Award.

Robin Swift is a Chinese boy plucked from Canton during a cholera plague by the mysterious Professor Lovell.  He takes Robin as a ward and trains him in Latin, Greek, Chinese, and English.  Lovell then gets him enrolled at University College at Oxford where he trains to become a translator and a manipulator of magical silver.  While at Oxford, Robin discovers that there’s a secret society called Hermes whose mission is to undermine the magical silver industry that Britain uses to dominate half the globe.  Robin is torn between his love of learning and languages and the battle against injustice.  This comes to a head when Robin and his classmates go to China with the Professor to help translate between the local Cantonese government and the British corporations that are trying to sell opium under the guise of free market capitalism.  

This book just astounded me.  First it drew on my amateur fondness for languages and linguistics, then turned into a gripping tale of revolution and world peace and justice.  I was also just amazed at how much I loved the prose.  For a book not told in first person, it beautifully captured Robin’s character development from abused child to comfortable student to revolutionary.  The prose also created three supporting characters of great depth and individuality:  Ramy, a Muslim Indian; Victoire, a Haitian refugee; and Letty, a spoiled British Admiral’s daughter.  Together with Robin, they all are language lovers and are honored to be at Oxford’s School of Translation, aka Babel.  But this slowly deteriorates as they mature and have more exposure to the tenets of Hermes.

I did not really have much sense of what this book was about.  Even the book’s subtitle, “The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution,” was rather confusing.  This is the current read for my book club, and there was concern that this book would be pretentious, especially with a long title like that.  But I found it personal and accessible and deeply empathized with the main characters.  I don’t always like Regency British fantasy, finding it too haughty to tolerate.  But it worked in well with the conflicts of Robin and his cohort.  Professor Lovell is simply ghastly, typically bigoted, self-centered, and narcissistic, just like most of the faculty at Babel and the other students throughout Oxford.  

I thought the world building was quite impressive, bringing in some anachronisms for which the author apologizes and explains in the forward.    But it’s all so subtle, like the railway system being built a few decades earlier than in reality, and of course the tower of Babel in the middle of Oxford, which never existed.  Kuang did a terrific job making it all seem natural and fluid.  Add in the magical silver and you have a fantastical and oppressive empire in which it is easy to become complacent unless the country that’s being oppressed is your homeland.  

I give this book five stars out of five.  I was bowled over by how much I loved this book.  Everything from the prose to the characterization simply worked for me.  It’s a long book, over five hundred pages, and it took me a week to finish, mostly because work had me so exhausted during the week, I got almost no reading done until the weekend.  I think some people might find it dry, especially the first half which features Robin and his cohort in their first three and half years at Babel.  It’s a lot of detail about languages, their relationships, and the problems with translations.  But I found it fascinating.  

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Jade Legacy

Fonda Lee
Completed 8/6/2023, Reviewed 8/6/2023
5 stars

I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but wow!  Wow!  This book was terrific.  I’m glad I read the whole trilogy close together.  I was completely invested in the lives of the Kaul family.  Reading this book was like coming back to a warm place, even though it’s about Mafia-like families where the primary conflict is over the magical Jade and who dominates the Jade trade and thus the economy of the island of Kekon.  There’s lots of violence and politicking, but it’s so well-conceived and executed with amazing character development that I couldn’t put it down.  I got through this 700+ page book in just over a week, flying through it in basically over two weekends.  I would have gotten through it sooner if work didn’t get in the way. LOL.  This book won the Canadian Aurora Award and the Locus Fantasy Award for 2022.

This final volume is a sprawling conclusion to the Green Bone Saga trilogy.  Lots of things happen, but the crux of this book is the ultimate confrontation between the No Peak and the Mountain clans.  The Kaul family runs the No Peak clan.  They navigate negative press and pressure from the Mountain clan, trying to survive in the Jade business.  Hilo, the Pillar; Shae, his sister the Weather Man; and Anden, their adoptive cousin work together to expand the No Peak clan’s influence abroad.  But whenever they take one step forward, the Mountain clan pushes them two steps back.  

Needless to say, the world building is amazing.  I was completely immersed in this pseudo-Asian culture and completely bought into the magic and power of Jade.  The prose is also just spectacular, lyrically descriptive without being overbearing.  The character development, well, it goes without saying that I felt a part of the lives of the Kaul family.  All three main characters mature, growing into their roles in the clan as well as in their personal lives.  I felt particularly attached to Anden who is gay and trying to balance his clan responsibilities with finding love in his life.  Similarly, Shae must come to grips with her own passions, allowing herself to love the man she has pined for for a long time.  And Hilo, while still hot-headed, grows into a formidable Pillar.  As for the Mountain clan, their Pillar, Ayt Mada, well, I can’t help picturing the amazing Michelle Yeoh playing her deliciously malevolently if this ever becomes a film or series.  

I know I’ve been pretty vague in this review, throwing nothing but superlatives, I don’t have much else to say about it.  A plot summary would go on forever and give away the drama.  Anything else I could say has already been said in the reviews of the first two books, Jade City and Jade War.  But this book gets five stars out of five because it all came gloriously together.  I’m so glad I read the first book in my World Fantasy Award challenge, otherwise, I may never have experienced this incredible ride.