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Demon's Daughter

Demon's Daughter - Amy Braun Since the author is one of my favorite member of the Weekend Writing Warriors blog hop, I knew she wrote great action scenes. And this book is full of them! Hunted by demons, a nasty Mexican drug cartel and the Federal Marshals, Constance Ramirez is having hard time keeping her younger sister Dro safe. Constance might be young, but a hard, dangerous life has made her tough and ruthless. And considering who's after her, she has to be. I felt like I was on a wild roller-coaster ride to an ending that left me breathless. Even the artfully interspersed flashbacks are full of action. Like Constance, this book is violent and intense, with few feel-good moments, so when those moments come, they make quite an impact. Anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

The Pale Horseman

The Pale Horseman - Bernard Cornwell A re-read. I love these books!

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) - Hilary Mantel Loved it! I'm starting the sequel today.

Forever Amber (Rediscovered Classics)

Forever Amber (Rediscovered Classics) - Kathleen Winsor, Taylor Bradford,  Barbara One of those so-bad-it's-good potboilers. It totally delivered on expectations. A raunchy (for the 1940's) Gone With the Wind.

The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley I approached The Mirror Empire with mixed feelings. I'm already sort of a fan of Hurley's. I enjoyed her Bel Dame Apocryhpa series- though I'm not sure that "enjoy" is quite the correct term to apply to any of my readings of her work. Let's face it- her books are a challenging read. I found The Mirror Empire a bit easier to get into because I think there was a bit more descriptive set-up of the world.

But with something like ten POV characters (and here I thought I was overdoing with 4-6), the book is still a pretty wild ride. In fact, trying to create a coherent review is a bit of a challenge. I don't even know how to begin to describe the world and the plot. Suffice it to say, Hurley has created something pretty original here, and I feel like a few years down the line, people will point to this book as a possible game-changer in the genre.

The world itself is multi-dimensional, which isn't new, but Hurley gives it a unique twist which makes it more confusing, but also more intriguing with almost unlimited possibilities for future books, which are hopefully coming soon. She's also created some pretty unusual societies, turning gender roles and constructs on their heads. No stereotypical fantasy bimbos here. Some of the differences are a bit unnerving- men as chattel in Zezili's world- and some are confusing- five genders in another, and a gender-morphing pov character. It's not just the societies that are different; the worlds themselves are full of strange vegetation, creatures, planets and magic. There's a lot to absorb.

This is some seriously dark stuff. The world here is threatened and brutal- even the supposed pacifists aren't very. Maybe it was just the asthma meds, but I felt I had to strain my brain a bit to get through this. I was tempted several times to draw diagrams and take notes. With constantly alternating points of view, it takes a while to figure out what is going on where, and I kept having to remind myself of who belonged in which version of which world. I shudder at the thought of writing something this complicated and the piles of notes it must have taken.

That's part of my problem these days. Now that I'm writing my own book, I do a lot of my reading through a writer's lens. In some ways, it makes it harder for me to enjoy books that have marked flaws, but on the other hand, I can appreciate complex and well-written stuff, which this book definitely is.

My only quibble is that the sheer volume of important characters made it difficult to relate to just about any of them. Though well-drawn, a great many lacked depth and I felt a bit frustrated because so many remained enigmatic. At first I thought it was because there were so many, but it doesn't have to be that way- thinking of George R.R. Martin's numerous and always well-drawn characters. Still, since this is the beginning of a trilogy, I have a lot of hope that we'll get to know these characters a lot better in future books.

If you like your sci-fi/fantasy heavy, dark and complicated, I strongly recommend ths!

The Thirty Year's War: Europe's Tragedy

The Thirty Year's War: Europe's Tragedy - Peter H. Wilson Pretty serious on the scholarly side; just about unreadable for the layperson. I learned a lot and will use as reference in future, but am profoundly relieved to be done!

The Hallowed Hunt

The Hallowed Hunt - Lois McMaster Bujold I really liked the first two in this trilogy, but struggled to get through this one. Ingrey is just not as compelling a protagonist, and the story moved very, very slowly. Still, well-written and set in an interesting world so I never gave up on it completely.

Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold Paladin of Souls was my favorite of the three. It takes place about three years after the events in the first book and follows the adventures of Ista, the former Royina (Queen, I guess) of Chalion, and Iselle's mother. Poor Ista has had a very difficult life and now everyone thinks she's crazy. She's coddled within inches of her life, but finally finds a way to break out and have a bit of adventure. Then she gets it in spades.

Ista is a very enjoyable character- Bujold seems to specialize in these damaged, middle-aged protagonists and does them very well. There's a bit more romance int his one, but it goes delightfully unconventionally, and is resolved in a satisfying and plausible way. The climax is especially exciting.

There's a bit too much sword and sorcery-style action for my taste, but that's just me. I like my magic minimal or non-existent, and there is quite a bit in this world. Aside from that, my main quibble would be that Ista figures out how to use her gifts a little too quickly to be believed. Considering the lugubrious pace in general, you'd think she'd get more time to come to terms with what she's learned and figure out how to use it. As it is, she goes from nothing to advanced in what seems like seconds.

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion - Lois McMaster Bujold Liked it, didn't love it. But the writing is good, and the world interesting enough that I've already started the next one.

Wildfire (Firethorn, #2)

Wildfire (Firethorn, #2) - Sarah Micklem I didn't love it as much as Firethorn. After a short time with Galan, Firethorn's adventures lead her away from him and into captivity. She enters a completely new country, where she becomes a slave. I found this really frustrating. Her life as a slave is actually much safer and less brutal than that of a camp follower, but it sure is boring. It doesn't last, but she spends a lot of the book kind of waiting for something to happen. When it finally does, I found it pretty unsatisfying. It wasn't clear to me what she wanted, or what she was doing, or where this was going.

All the same, the new society is drawn just as completely as the first one was- maybe even more so- it was just that Firethorn's place in it was strange and ambiguous. That being said, it was still a really gorgeous book and I can't wait for the third one. It's been five years since Wildfire came out, so hopefully we'll see the next one soon.

Firethorn

Firethorn - Sarah Micklem Luck is an orphan who was fortunate enough to be raised in the household of the Dame, a noblewoman who taught her weaving and herblore. When the Dame dies, Luck runs away rather than deal with an oppressive new master. She spends a year alone in the woods, and nearly dies of exposure and starvation. In desperation, she eats the poisonous berries of the firethorn tree, but doesn't die. Instead, she has a kind of revelation that leads her to believe she's become a servant of the gods and change her name to Firethorn.

Upon returning to civilization, Firethorn meets Sire Galan, a young knight on his way to war. They become lovers and he takes her along with him as his personal camp follower. Even under his protection, it's a tough life for Firethorn. The society of her world is extremely stratified, and as one of the "mudfolk," she is the lowest of the low. Her relationship with Galan is fraught with conflict, and just when she thinks she might feel safe with him, he does something incredibly foolish that places both their lives in jeopardy. Even though they're not yet at war, Firethorn finds herself fighting for her life as well as her integrity.

Though MIcklem's writing is gorgeous- I am so jealous!- this is a gritty, harsh world, and the reader isn't spared anymore than Firethorn is. Mudfolk are treated like, well, mud by the aristocracy, and the status of women is even worse. Even the romance is far from satisfying, if you're looking for love that is pure and true.

Personally, I loved it. Fantasy frequently doesn't concern itself with the underclasses at all, and it also has a tendency to romanticize medieval-type societies. Women especially are frequently given status and opportunities that are frankly, extremely unrealistic. I realize that's part of why it's fantasy, but I'm one of those readers who likes my fantasy to seem real. I understand why not many writers attempt this approach, because it can be a bit hard to read, and is probably even harder to write. I'm just now realizing how difficult it is for me to hurt characters that I love, and hurting ones that have little to no control over their own destinies is that much worse.

Micklem never shies away from this, though, and Firethorn's lot never improves throughout all of her tribulations. There's no discernible reward for her suffering except for survival. We like seeing protagonists who triumph and prevail, and it's a bit hard to swallow the endless slog of hardship and violence, with no end in sight. That being said, this isn't depressing, although some reviewers disagree. In addition, there is an immensely thrilling battle scene toward the end told in a stunningly unique way and which made me very, very happy in it's level of attention to detail of medieval combat methods. And overall, the details are great. The world is fully realized, with a fascinating and complex religion, and there are many well-drawn and enjoyable secondary characters.

The book ends with Sire Galan going off to war and leaving Firethorn behind. She's not going to stand for that, though, and in the second book, Wildfire, she crosses the sea to join him. Struck by lightning during a storm during the crossing, Firethorn survives only somewhat worse for the wear physically, but with her speech completely garbled. Now everyone is sure she's been touched by the gods. The garbled speech makes for somewhat tedious reading, although she improves gradually.

The Language of Power

The Language of Power - Rosemary Kirstein In many ways, the last book was the least interesting. Rowan's progress towards the truth she seeks is frustratingly slow, although she is reunited with Bel and eventually, another old friend. The end was a bit more predictable, because it was the third time Kirstein used a particular plot device. Still, really fascinating reading. We get more insight into the world of the wizards, and Rowan is always more fun when Bel is around.

The Lost Steersman

The Lost Steersman - Rosemary Kirstein
The third book finds Rowan and Bel parting ways temporarily, although Rowan finds a satisfying new sidekick in the form of Steffie, a young man who at first seems slow, but turns out to have a brain well-suited to Steerswoman (and the occasional man) type of inquiry. Rowan is trying to find out what has happened to a Steersman who left the order and was kidnapped by mysterious creatures the humans refer to only as Demons.


This takes her into the middle of a truly alien culture and what she learns there doesn't get her much farther along on her quest, although it's extremely interesting. The build-up to the climax of this book was alternately hair-raising and boring, but led to a really strange and thought-provoking twist.

The Steerswoman

The Steerswoman - Rosemary Kirstein irst published in 1989, The Steerswoman gained a small but devoted following. These poor people had to wait ELEVEN YEARS between books two and three, so I should probably quit whining. Published as ebooks in 2013, they seem to be gaining in popularity, as well they should.

Rowan is a steerswoman, a guild of navigators and seekers of knowledge:


If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman's knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth.

And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition's contract -- and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even your most casual question.

And so, the steerswomen — always seeking, always investigating — have gathered more and more knowledge about the world they traveled, and they share that knowledge freely.

I saw that blurb and realized I had to read this book.

In her travels, Rowan discovers what appears to be a harmless, yet curious item, and her questions about it quickly lead to danger, not just for her, but for her whole order. She finds an interesting way to continue her quest in secret- hard to do when you are obligated to tell the truth- and finds a few friends to help her. Bel is a warrior from The Outskirts, a barren, savage land that surrounds the Inner Lands which is home to a kind of medieval civilization. Willam is a teenage boy who has discovered "magic," and is hoping to become a wizard's apprentice.

Unlike the Steerswomen, wizards do not share their knowledge, and are the source of much trouble in the Inner Lands. Their magic is easily recognized by us, but inexplicable to Rowan and her contemporaries.

These books are carefully written and well-thought-out. Rowan's lines of inquiry are fun to observe. There's no real scientific method; many problems are posed as either/or scenarios, with Rowan carefully and logically working her way to sometimes startling conclusions.

In the first book, the world itself is far less interesting than the characters. Rowan and Bel are particularly well-drawn and sympathetic in completely unique ways.

The Outskirter's Secret

The Outskirter's Secret - Rosemary Kirstein, Rosemary Kiestein The second book, The Outskirter's Secret was probably my favorite of the series. Rowan's investigations lead her into the Outskirts, where she is forced to rely on Bel and her people for information as well as survival. This arid, inhospitable world is truly fascinating and the nomads that inhabit it even more so. In spite of the hardships, Rowan finds both personal and professional fulfillment here, at least for a while. In the end, she's gained some valuable information, in addition to becoming sadder and wiser.

Sword of the Lamb

Sword of the Lamb - M.K. Wren Amazing sci-fi series! Reminded me of Dune, in a good way. Couldn't stop until I'd read all three books!