Jan 2 2016

Book Review: Rough Magick

The short stories and poems in Rough Magick, edited by Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez, explore the darker side of love and sex with a mixture of haunting, romantic, and horrifying tales. The anthology is split into two parts with the first half being lyrical stories based in realism, while the second half presents fantastical tales. This choice to split the collection was my biggest annoyance. I would have preferred to have read alternating tales of realism and fantasy, which would have provided an interesting juxtaposition. On the whole, though, Rough Magick is a strong collection with the majority of the stories being rather good and some being utterly fantastic. Here are a few favorites.

Written out like a series of instructions, “Spell to Mend a Broken Heart” by Amanda Yates Garcia sketches out the pain of heartbreak and charts a path to healing. 

“Paradise” by Ashley Inguanta is a  gorgeous story of burning — California wildfires and dry, dusty air, and the thirst of dried out and ashy hearts.

In “Venus,” Sarah Herrington presents two young girls discovering each other among the Venus fly traps with a beautiful, magical lyricism.

Probably the most disturbing story in the collection is “Rathead” by Laura Lee Bahr. It’s a strange staying which a woman falls for a handsome magician, only to wake up the morning after to discover he has a rat head. She stays with him, both loving and hating him for and despite of his hideous head.

“Persephone + Hades” by Jilly Dreadful and K.T. Ismael envisions the underworld as a sleek and seedy version Los Angeles, with various gods of death commingling and Persephone’s journeys there a kind of rebellion against her mother. The writing in this is rich and playful and gorgeous. For example: “I was taken by the ruin that bloomed there: eyes rotted out of the skull, nose skin shrinking away from its open mouth and maggots feasting away on what was left. Surrendering to the cycle, how death begets life: these were things I would never know as the daughter of Demeter.”

Kira Lees offers a disturbing vision of possessive love in “Strands of Gold.” A young girl discovers a monster, which falls in love with her instead of eating her. She brings him gifts of other children (to consume) and plays other kinds of games with him as she grows older. The ending is wonderfully unsettling.


Dec 29 2015

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

On the same day Essun comes home to find that her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter, a volcanic rift is torn across the center of the continent throwing the Sanze empire into chaos. A great earthquake rolls over the land, crushing cities and villages, and ash begins to cloud the sky. Essun leaves behind the illusion of normalcy she had shaped for so many years and journeys into a wilds of the collapsing world in order to pursue her husband and save her daughter.

Essun is a woman with secrets and many names. I don’t really know how to talk about her without giving something away. There were aspects of her personality and her story that were only revealed (to me, at least) deep into the novel, her individuality, her self having many aspects, all naturally fitting in to the whole of her story. She’s complicated and calm and full of rage. One phrase she repeats again and again throughout the story as she faces prejudice and oppression in many forms is, “It’s not right.” She sees that society is violently broken and is powerless to stop it. And already, I feel as though I’ve said too much, so let’s move on.

The worldbuilding in The Fifth Season is exceptional. It’s a world built on continual catastrophe, a continent continually beset by earthquakes and the threat of apocalypse. The stability of the empire is built on survival through past destruction, surviving many apocalyptic seasons (known as fifth seasons, seasons of death) in which earthquakes, volcanoes, or other natural disasters have created months, years, or decades of light-less winter and famine. As such, the culture is focused on survival, with their scripture, known as Stone Lore, primarily presenting knowledge on how to prepare for and survive the next apocalyptic season that is sure to come.

The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy. I hadn’t intended to get started on another series this year, but here I am and I don’t at all mind. Jemisin’s story is fantastic on many levels and I can’t wait for next books to be released.


Nov 20 2015

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

From page one, I loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Every ten years a Dragon chooses a young maiden, but this is not the kind of dragon with scales or the kind who would eat her. He’s an ageless wizard in a tower, who keeps the darkness and malevolence of the Wood at bay in exchange for the service of a girl, whom he releases at the end of ten years (although none of the girls chose to return home after). Every one expects him to take Kasia, the most beautiful and brave and capable girl in the town, so when the time of the choosing comes and he chooses Agnieszka instead, it’s a great surprise to everyone, most especially Agnieszka herself.

It’s difficult to describe the plot of this book, because so much unfolds is packed away and then unfolded again over the course of the story. Amal El-Mohtar has in her review on NPR has a wonderful description of reading this book.

“Watching the plot develop is like watching time-lapse footage of a plant growing, unfurling leaves, gaining height and depth simultaneously: it’s an organic, vivacious development that builds seamlessly on what came before. Agnieszka’s training, her failures and successes in magic, her loneliness and fears and frustrations, all bud and blossom into new adventure even as the roots tangle into deeper complication: The ultimate source of the Wood’s malice.”

Although the story features sex and something like romance, the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is the true heart of this story. Having known each other all their lives, their friendship begins sweet, but delves into a deeper trust as all their petty jealousies and hidden anger laid bare over the course of the story. But throughout, they stay true to each other and they stay true to themselves, able to have their own emotional arcs, face their own inner demons, and realize their own strength and confidence.

There are so many other things I could say about this book, about how it plays with story telling and myth, how it focused more on the local village community than on royalty, how it relates a story of nature versus civilization, or maybe how explores the differences between linear versus organic styles of magic. This book is just so wonderfully layered and I’m sure there will be more to think about and reconsider when I come around to reading it again, but for the moment I just want to say that I love Novik’s writing style, how she manages to maker her lines seem at once so beautiful and at the same time so effortless. I melted into this story and I will be looking forward to exploring more of Novik’s work.

 


Nov 4 2015

Books finished in October 2015

1. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (audio book) by Susanna Clarke
2. All the Rage by Courtney Summers
3. Fiendish (audio book) by Brenna Yovanoff
4. Celestial Inventories (short stories) by Steve Rasnic Tem
5. Failure Lyric, poetry by Kristina Marie Darling

Still reading at the end of the month:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie and Attachments (audio book) by Rainbow Rowell. Both are wonderful.

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Oct 3 2015

Books completed in September 2015

1. The Martian by Andy Weir
2. Fables, Vol 18: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham
3. Fables, Vol 19: Snow White by Bill Willingham
4. Fables, Vol 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
5. Divine Scream by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
6. Less Than Hero by S.G. Browne
7. Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne

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