Book Review: Ancillary Sword ☆☆☆

ancswdWhat if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?

And what if all of it were ripped away?

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.

Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent. – Goodreads

So this is the second book in the Imperial Radch series. This review of Ancillary Sword will contain spoilers for the first book – Ancillary Justice. Read on at your own risk.

I won’t lie I went into this book with high expectations. When Justice left off our Ancillary had made good on her 20 years of plotting revenge on the Lord of the Radch by exposing the cold war with her split personalities, and bringing civil war to both herself, and the Empire. She also managed to kill some more Mianaai clones as well, but the civil war is where the real death blow was aimed. After all the Lord of the Radch is the Empire, and no matter who wins this war both are presumably irrevocably weakened. This is the beginning of the end.

Better yet our girl, (and I’m calling every character, AI or human, a woman at this point. It’s just easier than trying to figure everyone out, and keep them straight.) gets her own ship, Mercy of Kalr, so rather than just sitting back, and watching the show she’ll be an active participant! This is really exciting because she doesn’t like any of the Mianaai splits, and so is a total wild card. Except as it turns out none of this happens. Oh it’s implied, but we never get to see it.

The first book was about justice, revenge really, for the loss Justice of Toren, and the death her favorite officer Lt. Awn. This book was about trying to establish a relationship with Lt. Awn’s baby sister. To do so we travel to Atheok Station which revolves around a tea plantation world with no real strategic value or significance. As Lt. Awn tried to address the injustices of Shis’urna in the first book so too Breq tries to address the injustices of Atheok Station, and one of the tea plantations on the planet.

Which is admirable, but not what I was promised! Where is the epic scale of a civil war spreading throughout the Empire? Where are the dueling Mianaai clones? I was expecting an epic Star Wars saga, but instead got an episode of Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong I like Star Trek, but that’s so not what had I been led to believe I was going to get.

Also the I wasn’t as big a fan of the POV hopping in this book as the last. In Justice we see the multiple points of view from Justice of Toren. You mostly see from Breq’s POV, but it often switched to her fellow ancillaries, and even the ship herself as needed. I loved that, and thought it gave a really good insight into Breq, and the AI in general.

In this book we see Breq looking through the eyes of Mercy of Kalr, and her crew. Instead of getting a better sense of the character(s) it just felt like spying to me. It also slowed the story down significantly. I mean one scene was often three separate scenes slowly playing out at the same time. If those scenes were important I’d have rather seen them from the POV of each character rather than just watch it dispassionately from Breq’s eyes. That being said there was still some good character development between Breq, and her crew so the book has that going for it.

Overall, I felt this book didn’t live up to my expectations set at the end of Ancillary Justice. Justice ramped up from a slow start to an epic saga in the making only for Sword to bring it to a screeching halt. I will still be reading the last book, Ancillary Mercy, to see how the story ends, but I’ll do it with scaled back expectations.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

That’s what I just read. I’m currently reading Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey.

kushiels_chosen

Book Review: Ancillary Justice ☆☆☆☆

leckie_ancillaryjustice_tpOn a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.

Before I go any further I’ve decided to put the synopsis of a book before my reviews. This will be either directly from the book, or from goodreads. I will not consider anything mentioned in this synopsis a spoiler, and I will not post any warnings before talking about it. When I do touch on something that might be a spoiler I will be changing the font color to match the background. Just highlight the selected area if you wish to read it.

Okay, let’s start with the good because there are a few things here that I love. First, this is a space opera which I realize for many is a red flag, but for myself is a huge plus. I love epic adventures in space. I love the space battles (although there aren’t any in this book), the tech (which is more cool than hard science technical!), all the new and exotic worlds, the ships, AI etc. I just love it all!

I should note, again, that in this space opera there is a distinct lack of space battles. There are actually only a handful of fighting scenes of any variety in this book for that matter. That said there are a few as well as other cool scenes peppered in. The action definitely ramps up more toward the end of the story.

Ancillary Justice also switches between POVs which slows the story down a bit in the beginning, and if you aren’t used to that sort of thing might make it harder to get figure out what’s going on. If you’ve read Jemisin or Rothfuss you’ll have no problem staying with the story. (If you haven’t.. OMG you need to do so asap!) Likely you will put the pieces together very early on. I know I did. All told I felt the story actually moved at a pretty brisk pace even when nothing much was happening.

Second, the story follows an ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren who is on a mission for vengeance some 20 years in the making. Ancillaries are basically humans wiped clean, and re-purposed to serve advanced AI ships. Ancillaries are extensions of starships much the same way an arm is an extension of a person. More like a tool/weapon actually. They share an identity with each other and the ship, but are also self aware as well. Quite a few reviews that I’ve read didn’t really like or connect with out ancillary, but I personally loved her/it/them.

Third, I’m very intrigued by the Lord of the Radch. She has many clones of herself spread throughout the empire to help her rule. It also makes her basically immortal. As far as I know she isn’t herself an AI with ancillaries, but like them her many clones share an identity while being self aware. A thousand years ago there was a rift between the main identity. Now parts of her are at war with each other. They have been playing a kind of cold war to keep the majority of her clones in the dark, and so to keep this war from her greater identity. Once this is let out of the bag the cold war moves to a civil war. I really look forward to seeing how this plays out!

The Radch itself felt rather vanilla to me. Don’t get me wrong Leckie does enough world building to make it feel real, but at the end of the day it was just another empire. I did like how the book gives multiple points of view. For instance from the Radch perspective they are simply an expansionist empire spreading civilization. From the ‘uncivilized’ the Radch they are evil murderous bastards. Leckie also shows how injustice is done outside the empire as well as how there are those inside the empire who decry the empire’s treatment of others.

Okay now for my only real complaint. Leckie decided to make the Radch, and by extension our ancillary blind to gender. Their language doesn’t distinguish between genders. They just by default use the feminine pronoun regardless of sex/orientation. This book has been out for a few years, and with all the buzz around it I knew this going in. I didn’t really think much of it, but it ended bothering me quite a lot.

I mean I get that Leckie wants to make a statement about default male in literature, and the world in general. The thing is that the way this is done kept throwing me out of the story completely. I kept trying to keep track of who was what, and eventually I just decided that they would all just be females. It was just easier. Plus lots of lesbians so yay! Seriously it would have been just as jolting we called every female character  by a male pronoun even when we knew they were women.

If Leckie’s goal was to create a society that was truly genderless she failed in two ways. First the Radch empire isn’t genderless!! The empire is made up of many cultures with each one we see having multiple sexes, and their citizens acknowledging these different sexes. Calling them all she doesn’t change that fact.

Second, the very act of assigning every sex a female gender as a way of making them genderless actually draws more attention to gender! If she had wanted to point out that they were all equal, and gender had somehow no longer become something worth mentioning then why not call the sexes them, they, it, you, human, citizen, or something, you know, genderless!

Besides which saying that humanity could ever get to the point where we don’t acknowledge gender at all is beyond naive. Even in a perfect utopia where all people are treated equally irregardless of sex, race, religion etc. we are curious beings who constantly try to define the world around us. It would be like saying in the future we now ignore colors. All color will now be referred to as gray. Not because we are color blind, but because all colors are equal.

And I could make the argument that Leckie was doing exactly that because her ancillary was basically color blind in regards to gender. It just couldn’t tell, or care enough to try to tell the difference between male or female. (Again why not go with citizen, human etc.?) I could make that argument except this isn’t just an AI thing. No it is supposed to be an entire human civilization thing.

So yeah at the end of the day this just felt like a gimmick. One that pulled me out of the story over, and over again. Despite all that I loved the story itself and highly recommend it. So much so that I might have given this 5 stars, but settled for 4 instead. I do still want to finish the series, and actually have already checked out the next book from my library.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Book Review: Paladin of Souls ☆☆☆☆

paladinofsouls1stedIf you haven’t read The Curse of Chalion this review will contain small spoilers for that book, but not for Paladin of Souls.

Before you read Paladin of Souls I highly recommend you read The Curse of Chalion. You don’t have to, but Chalion does a lot of heavy lifting for the religion, and world that the books are set in. There are also characters, and events referenced in Paladin from Chalion. You don’t have to if you’d rather not however as Paladin will cover, in less detail, what you need to know from Chalion.

Paladin of Souls begins three years after The Curse of Chalion ends, and follows a woman named Ista. Like in Cazaril in Chalion, Ista is a grown adult. At 40 years old she has been a wife, the queen, a mother, god-touched, a widow, and is now the mother of a queen. Unlike Cazaril however Ista has no idea who she truly is. She has been defined by each of these roles in turn, but never been free to discover who she is outside of these roles.

She has also spent most of her adult life under a curse, deemed mad, and so confined and cared for by loved ones. Now that this curse has been released she wants to escape the gilded cage that her life has been, and discover herself. She embarks on a quest to do just that, but quickly becomes evolved in events well beyond her control. What she finds during these events is more than she bargained for!

My first instinct is to say that Paladin is not as epic as Chalion was, but that isn’t really true, or fair. Without giving spoilers I can say that there are forces at play in Paladin which are far more dangerous to the kingdom than anything in the first book. It just doesn’t always feel that way at times because we so stay closely zoomed in on Ista herself who doesn’t actually move around much during this story. As a result it feels like there is less going on even when that isn’t the case.

Staying so tightly focused on Ista does make this feel more personal than Chalion. We get to know Ista very well. Which is pretty awesome because she is an amazing character. I just love how Bujold writes her protagonists. She gives them a depth and complexity that is hard to find. They are intelligent, self-aware, flawed, but also filled with strength. I’ll stop myself there because I could go on, and on, and on about her characters!

As mentioned earlier we see less of the world, but we do get to discover new places which weren’t in Chalion. Also, we see a lot more magic in Paladin than in Chalion. More of the gods as well. Well, maybe about the same, but there is more interaction from the gods anyway.

There are two romances going on in this book. One revolves around some minor characters which quite I enjoyed, and I thought it was done very well. I was less appreciative of the romance for Ista. Don’t get me wrong I liked the match, but it happened quite suddenly. I would have preferred it had been given more time to develop, or that it had ended so that we knew they would end up together later once they had had said time.

It was a small thing however, and I loved Paladin of Souls every bit as much as I loved The Curse of Chalion. I look forward to reading the last book in the series, The Hallowed Hunt, when I get a chance.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Movies That Encourage Reading?

So like all parents my fiance, and I are always trying to encourage the love of reading in our little girl (3 years old). We read to her each day, take her to the library and bookstores, buy her books as presents/rewards, she sees our love of reading etc. And she does enjoy being read to so it’s working!

We also want to add more movies to her ever expanding collection which themselves encourage reading. One more thing can’t hurt right! Off the top of our head we have only come up with: Matilda, The Pagemaster, Beauty and the Beast, and The Neverending Story. We own each of these, but i’m sure there are more. We’re drawing a blank however. Any suggestions?

Book Review: Kushiel’s Dart ☆☆☆☆☆

kushieldartI’m having trouble deciding how to best begin my review of Kushiel’s Dart.. I’ll start with the world which is modeled after a mesh of medieval European cultures. Terre D’Ange is home to D’Angelines who are the descendants of fallen angels.These angels were cast down by God, and wandered the world looking for a home eventually settling in what would become Terre D’Ange. This history, and their shared angelic bloodlines form the basis of their religion which is a large part of their identity.

At the core of their religion is the phrase – love as thou wilt. One particular angel prostituted herself during the period of their wandering for the good of the angelic group. Now in this world prostitution is not just legal but a holy, sanctioned vocation.

Those who dedicate themselves to this angel form the Night Court. There are many houses which make up the Night Court each focusing on a different interpretation, or aspect of her service. That’s a crude description, but I tried to keep this as brief as possible. The world and religion of Kushiel’s Dart are both done very well. They have a depth, and complexity to which I have likely done a disservice, but hopefully I got the gist of it across.

Our heroine is Phedre, who as a young girl is sold by her parents to the Night Court who in turn later sells her to a nobleman. In his house she will learn become a courtesan spy. Things will of course go sideways for our heroine as they always do. Phedre’s story is full of political intrigue, battles, wars, love, friendship, betrayal, and sex.

The story itself is good, and there were a lot of things I enjoyed about it. There is a romance which was okay, and thankfully not overly sexual. Given her profession it would have felt less genuine to me if it had been all instant attraction, and hot sex.

I loved the relationship with her childhood friend. You get to see this friendship as it begins when they are children, and as they get older it remains true while changing with them. I actually enjoyed this more than the romance. You did a noble thing buddy, and I’m hoping this isn’t how your story ends! I definitely want to see him again as the series progresses. I’m not sure if I will though.

There is a great villainess in this story. She is easily one of my favorite villains even if she doesn’t much story time. I loved the relationship between her and our heroine. I expect they/she will get much more in the next two books. I mean how could she not!?

There are also parts of the book where the passage of time is both sudden and great. The author does a good job of showing how our character grows, and changes as a result. Or how the world itself has changed. Often an author writes 10 years later.. except nothing meaningful seems to have changed. Thankfully this wasn’t that.

Arguably most notable thing about Kushiel’s Dart is that there is a lot of sex in this story. There is no getting around that, and yes I’m including it in the things I liked best about the book. Terre D’Ange is a very hedonistic, sexual world.

In addition to being a courtesan Phedre is also an anguissette which is basically a masochist. Pain and humiliation give her great, if often involuntary, pleasure. Most of the many sex scenes will include some degree of bdsm.

That said these scenes never felt like a gimmick, or simply a prepubescent’s fantasy. They were descriptive, but not vulgar. Often they were sensual, and even arousing. Not to make this post awkward, but if these kinds of things make you uncomfortable you’ve been warned.

I don’t want to make it sound like this is an erotica, and the story is just there to frame the  sex. It isn’t. The world and religion are very complex. There is a lot of really good political intrigue going on. You have a great story with battles, nations going to war, and even some magic.

Here’s the thing though.. even with all that it was the sex that made this book great to me. Take that away, and I give this 3 stars. With the sex I give 5. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

There was one thing I had to flat out ignore. So she is trained as a courtesan spy. Cool. Except literally everyone knows this. Allies, friends, enemies, people who know people that have talked to other people – everyone. Somehow they still manage to let important information be discussed around her, or they simply tell her themselves. I mean, really? That’s a small thing however.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Book Review: Redshirts ☆☆☆

redshirtsSo I’ve seen this book floating around the SF/F community for years now, but I wasn’t quite sure about it. Don’t get me wrong I like Star Trek, and have laughed at many redshirt jokes over the years, but can you really make a compelling novel about said jokes? I wasn’t sure, and have passed on this book many times as a result. I finally picked it up at my library this week after reading a blurb by Patrick Rothfuss saying it was the funniest book he’d ever read, ever. So of course I had I’d give it a try!

For whatever reason the humor just wasn’t the LOL hilarity that I was led to believe it would be. That’s twice now Rothfuss! (The other time being a blurb he did about The Last Unicorn which when I read I didn’t really enjoy much.) I mean I could see the jokes, and having watched many the different iterations of Star Trek I could even appreciate them, but they just didn’t make me laugh. Maybe I was too focused on the characters themselves to appreciate the fourth wallish humor. Or maybe I was just Mr. Grumpy Pants at the time. Who knows.

The story itself was okay, but a bit shallow. There just isn’t much there to sink your teeth in. Given that it is a book basically built on a long running joke I kind of counted on that. I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but no biggie.

It was also a short book. It weighs in at 320 pages, but the actual story is more like 200 pages. After that it cuts away from our Redshirts, never to return, and does a separate thing altogether. Basically there are three short stories which close some threads introduced at the end of the actual story. Each of these stories is written in a different POV style – first, second, and third. That part was cool, but again it wasn’t really part of our Redshirt adventure.

Overall it was okay. Redshirts was pretty much what I expected when I first started hearing about the book, but not what I had hoped it might be. Definitely worth a read if you are a Star Trek fan, and who knows you might enjoy it far more than I did.

My Rating: ☆☆☆

P.S. In related fandom news.. Who else is excited about Star Trek: Discovery?!

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane ☆☆☆☆☆

oceanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane may be my absolute favorite Gaiman. I could probably say, and no doubt have said, that Neverwhere, and American Gods are as well, and mean(t) it for each. Likely whichever I’ve read last is my favorite, which for now is The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s only 178 pages, but that is because it is the distilled essence of amazing storytelling. I have read books with hundreds of more pages that have failed to pack half as much punch as this small novel.

It is the story of a man remembering the forgotten pieces of his childhood after returning to his hometown for a funeral. We never learn whose funeral, but it isn’t important. In fact we never learn the name of the man/boy, but that doesn’t matter either. It is a story of magic and wonder, fear, courage, and sacrifice, and of friendship and family. This story is filled with many dark moments, but you never feel a loss of hope. It is a story that is beautiful in its sadness leaving you in a state of contemplative melancholy. It has for me both times I’ve read it at least.

I don’t want to describe the plot because of spoilers, but I would love to learn more about the Hempstock ladies (and men!). Or the old country even. As I stated in my review of The Ice Dragon, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story that, to me at least, is less about the story itself, and more about how it makes me feel. I would describe it to you, but I’m not sure I fully understand it myself.

Others could do a better job of it I’m sure. Perhaps after further rereads I’ll be able to do it justice. And I will definitely be rereading this again as it is easily one of my favorite books. I appreciated it even more this reread than I did the first time.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆