The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Twitter Review: The dragons get the title, but African-tinged epic fantasy, Rage of Dragons,  interrogates rage from quite a few angles.

Affiliate Link: The Rage of Dragons

First Line: Queen Taifa stood at the bow of Targon, her beached warship, and looked out at the massacre on the sands.

Review: Let’s start the review where the book starts, the prologue. This is a far meatier prologue than most fantasy novels. It does a lot for the novel in terms of world-building and establishing the magick system used throughout. It also establishes that this is a book where giant, bloody battles are going to happen, and that the protagonists (NOT the good guys, but we’ll get into that later) are going to be fighting against overwhelming odds throughout the novel. I was very impressed how much heavy lifting is done , especially considering this is the author’s debut novel.

After the prologue, we pick up the story of Tau, the main character, a teenage boy. Like, most teenage boys, Tau is angry. And he’s going to stay angry throughout the book. His rage is going to inform all of his choices, and form the backbone of the story. He’s got a lot to be angry about. His society is a caste system, the girl he likes isn’t attainable, in order to become a citizen he has to become a soldier and go fight against an overwhelming horde hell bent on destroying his entire society, etc. etc.

Not that their society is a shining beacon of  morality justice. Heavily caste based, fled from their own homeland due to a mysterious big bad (who I’m pretty sure will show up in Book 3, but I get ahead of myself), invaded and took over a large chunk of land from an indigenous culture, which they then used WMDs (dragons) on to maintain their fragile graspi, and then spent the next two hundred years throwing every available citizen into the grinder instead of, you know, forging a peace.

Tau leaves his small hamlet to go to the big city, where he manages to get picked for an elite military through sheer stubbornness. My favorite part of the book is the middle section training montage. I’m a sucker for those.

The end of the book is satisfyingly twisty, and Winter’s build up of angsty Tau makes the choices made at the end feel earned and sets up a sequel. Good news on that front as Winters signed a deal for another 4 books in the series. Revelant Tweet

Without giving too much away, I like how this book, subtly, manages to discuss and comment upon colonialism, class inequality, nation level diplomacy, while tackling “lesser” personal issues as well.  How much do you owe your country? Is serving more or less important than being happy? Is a life worth living if revenge is your every thought? Are the things we do meaningful if done selfishly?

Winter’s writing is good enough that the various moral and ethical issues he interrogates are woven throughout the story, and don’t stand out until you put the book down for a bit and start thinking about what you read. He also has the book broken up into mini-arcs, making for a lot of natural places to pause.

I ignored them and read the last 40 percent of the book in one sitting. Whoops.

Final Verdict: I’m super excited for the FOUR sequels we’re going to get. I can’t wait to see how Tau’s unique training regime is going to feature in the sequels. I’m sorta hoping for him to get his own unit.  On the preorder list.

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The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Twitter Review: What if Roe vs. Wade wasn’t a rule of law, but a rule of nature?

Affiliate Link: Women’s War by Jenna Glass

First Line: Every year, when the long days of summer began their inevitable decline into fall, the winds in Aalwell changed direction.

Review: Most epic fantasy has a lot more sword fighting. This book has some, and one battle, off screen, but is mostly about women straining to find a place in a newly changed world. There are two main protagonists, Alys and Ellin, but we also get other POVs, including that of the big bad. You’ve got a smattering of romance tropes like Hooker with the Heart of Gold and Lady and Knight, a fleshed out magick system with magic elements slotted into spells like materia, and boatload of political intrigue.

Of course, the hook of the book is that magick has changed so that women can only get or remain pregnant through their own free will. No forced consent, no tricks, just pure choice. And while that starts the book, and is mentioned throughout, it doesn’t seem fully fleshed out. It doesn’t even seem necessary to drive the plot forward. The non-pregnancy related unitended consequences of the magick change has far more of an impact in the plot and how it was formed.  We’ve seen a lot of the plot points in the book arise without the use of the premise, which makes it (ironically) makes it seem forced.

However, the author does use the change in magic to look at what it would mean to a society, and how it would change power structures. What good is arranged marriage if a woman can’t be forced to give birth?  The world building is functional, though there’s some choices that don’t seem to quite make sense in a larger context. All divorced women end up being sent to a government supported brothel? All of these women live in a brothel where they’re required to sell their own bodies, but there aren’t any queer characters? What’s the difference between the government brothel and the other brothels that get mentioned through out?

That’s not to say that this isn’t a highly engaging book. The characterization is where Jenna Glass shines. Alys comes across as a mother concerned for her children, Ellin as a young woman suddenly put into a position of power, with all the doubts and attendant fears. My favorite character was the new Abbess, Chanlix, as she came to terms with her new position and a new romance.

The pacing on the book is a bit wierd. The plot flows nicely, but you don’t get to see the final conflict until the last ten percent of the book, and it peaks at around the 99% mark, which seems absurdly far in. At that point in the book, I expect the main plot to have been resolved, and threads being set up for the next book in the series. Instead, we have the climactic confrontation, and then  a couple of moments that really just… confused me.*

Final Verdict: Even with the minor stumbles, I was very happy to read this book, and am looking forward to it getting a sequel.

 

*SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER: Why would you kill off the daughter at the last moment like that? Why burn the book? That seems to close down a lot of potential plot points, and fridging the daughter seems unnecessary, as we already got the character development in Alys. It just seems… an odd narrative choice.

Women’s War by Jenna Glass

Lapses

Life got busy. This site fell by the wayside. I’m working on bringing it back. I don’t have much in the way of followers, but I like to do these reviews to let me think about themes and what the story meant to me.  Plus, I made business cards. So. Let’s see if I can get a post a week going.

In the meantime, some of the books I’ve REALLY enjoyed over the past few months:

Delta-V by Daniel Suarez
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
We Sold our Souls by Grady Hendrix
Uncanny Collateral by Brian McClellan
Internment by Samira Ahmed

Lapses

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Twitter Summary: Galaxy spanning but warm and cozy

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First line: In Teixcalaan, these things are ceaseless: star-charts and disembarkments.

One of my favorite flavors in SFF is what I call “bureaucracy porn”. Give me competent people competently running a ship, or a government, or a military unit, or a trading house. Give me the minutiae. Let me see how the character interacts with other characters to solve problems. I love it. Books such as The Goblin Emperor, The Outback Stars, Articles of Federation, Traitor Baru Cormorant, all scratch that itch. (edit: I can’t believe I forgot one of my favorite examples Myke Cole’s Fortress Frontier)

A Memory Called Empire does that too. Here we have a brand new ambassador to the largest empire around, an empire that seemingly runs on poetry. While I would have LOVED to see a little bit of the more mundane taskings of the ambassador, empire spanning intrigue gets in the way, and we’re immediately thrown into the fire.

Martine’s prose was well suited to the Teixcalaan empire, with the dialogue that is full of subtext and allusion. It’s also evident that her experience with cultures isn’t limited to the US. There is a lot in this book that seems as if the author came at it through different cultural mores that what I’m used to. I understand that creating an “alien world” is part of what SF authors do, but the way that it was gone about doesn’t seem to be wholly US/UK derived.

I thought one of the most interesting things about the book, was that though the protagonist is in the middle of a galaxy spanning crisis a planet’s civil war, the action always felt intensely closely held and personal. The crisis drove the plot and made the protagonist’s decisions necessary, but it’s felt more than seen as if just off camera. It enhanced the theme of isoilation throughout the book, and I thought it was incredibly well done.

Final Verdict: I enjoyed the book, and will preorder the next one.

 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Tor. I still bought an eCopy at my first opportunity.

First Line: Heloise wasn’t a small girl, but she’d never been a big one either.

Review: One of the things I most enjoy about Myke’s works is the way he interrogates the idea of leadership. In this novella, you have a young girl, Heloise, who is thrust into leadership. She has to learn how to be a leader, when to take advice, when to make the hard decision. You have the mayor, er, maior, who was in charge of the town, but now sees Heloise being deferred to by people within and without the town. And you have Samson, the father, who is learning what it is be the parent of a leader, before he thinks she is ready.

Myke regularly goes back to the well of “How do you be a leader when you lose your identity.” Oscar Britton was a leader, but then he was an outlaw. Alan Bookbinder was a leader of paperwork, and a conjuror of excel spreadsheets, but then he was in charge of a FOB. Heloise was never a leader, but then she killed a demon and she didn’t have a choice.

Those are questions that allow me to identify with Myke’s characters. How would I lead vs. how would Heloise/Oscar/Bookbinder lead. Which isn’t to say this isn’t a text on leadership or that this this book is dry or introspective. You’ve got medieval witch hunter monks armed with fails, you’ve got ninjas, you’ve got Romani knife dancers… This book feels much larger, and it’s really a testament to Mykes’s writing. The pacing is fast, but the prose is taut enough to impart volumes of information, meaning you have a dense, richly woven story.

Final verdict: I want more. I’m breathlessly awaiting the third book.

Queen of Crows by Myke Cole

Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby

Twitter Review: Tron Sons of Anarchy by way of Caged Heat

First Line: That’s one thing they never told Lena Horror about space – how damn dark it is.

I read this book. Then I read the reviews of this book. And they… did not match what I expected. I don’t understand a lot of other reviews of this book. What genre did they think they were reading in exactly? This book is about a post apocalyptic SF biker gang in a women’s prison. It combines tropes from post apocalyptic works, outlaw biker flicks, and women in prison movies. You’ve got some Mad Max, some Tron, some Caged Heat, some Death Race 2000 and some Sons of Anarchy.

Many mentions are made that one of the characters is very aggressive about sex, and could be considered a sexual predator. Well. Yeah. I mean… So is Tig on SoA. So is Carrie on Orange is the New Black. What did you expect from outlaw bikers?!

Others have deemed this an Anti-abortion allegory because mothers are given full autonomy over the life choices of their children. This is sort of like saying that Soylent Green is a polemic about the dangers of processed food, or that Logan’s Run is about the dangers of euthanasia. Maybe we could complain that it’d be real dumb for nations of the Earth to settle things via giant robots punching one another. (Robot Jox)

As for representation, yes. It is bad that the one explicitly trans character is killed off. But that’s hardly the whole story.The deaf, trans, Muslim character got a bad ass last stand. One of the lesbians in the novel is the aforementioned sexual predator. You also have the leader of the cannibal gang. You have the mentor figure and the inventor of the cyclone bikes and her lover. You have multiple NPCs who are lesbians. The girl with Down syndrome is the best pilot they got. The new girl in the gang is ace. From what I counted there are four men in the book. SPOILER Two actually get lines and both of them die. The gay best friend dies a few pages sooner, sure. But considering the incredibly high death total late in the book, this isn’t so much a case of “killing your gays’ as it is a case of the majority of the named people in this book dying. This is a book with a high death toll.

I won’t even get into the ridiculous nature of complaining about one of the plot points not making sense when you decided not to read the entire book to find out the explanation.

I found this book to be a bad ass, action packed, pulpy cyclone ride. I liked the characters, I liked the plot, I liked the camp. I liked that it’s a love song to so many different genres at the same time, yet stands up as a narrative even if you’re not familiar with the tropes of those genres.

Verdict: I loved this book. I don’t think it’ll get a sequel, but this and Smoke Eaters has put Grigsby on my pre-order list.

Daughters of Forgotten Light by Sean Grigsby

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Twitter Review: Sons of Anarchy in a rich fantasy land

First line: Jackal was about to wake the girls for another tumble when he heard Oats bellow for him through the thin walls of the brothel.

It’s not possible to talk about this book without acknowledging it owes a lot of debts to the Sons of Anarchy TV Show. I mean some of the main characters are even named similarly, Jackal vs. Jackson, Oats vs. Opie, The Claymaster vs. Clay, Mead vs. Juice, Beryl vs Gemma (That one is a slight stretch but a Beryl is a gem…) The author acknowledges those debts in the back of the book.

This isn’t just Sons of Anarchy with motorcycles played by hogs and guns played by crossbows though. This book is laid down on some pretty good worldbuilding, that delves into why the half-orcs are all arranged in gangs (hoofs) , and why their land exists at all. Like a motorcycle-spaghetti western-Tolkien mashup almost.

A lot of people have commented on the cursing, but I don’t really pay attention to that sort of thing. It does exist, but *shrugs* I curse. Bikers curse.

The story is the best part. This isn’t a paint by numbers hero journey, or retelling of the hobbit. The story goes back and forth and makes you think about what it means to trust. Jackal makes mistakes. Sometimes he makes them knowing their mistakes but knowing he can’t do anything else. I like that aspect.

The book ends with our hero riding off into the sunset to pursue dastardly evil doers across the lonesome plain. Hopefully we’ll get more adventures of the Grey Bastards.

Final Verdict: Tough as nails, crass as a sailor, this is a book I want a sequel for.

EDIT: 9 MAY 19 (It looks like the sequel is finished and schlepped off to the publisher, so someday!)

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French