Book Review: Kaleidoscope by Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (eds.)

I don’t usually review books here on the FableCroft site, but like to periodically do so when it’s a book by one of the authors we have published in the past or is something so brilliant from another small press that it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops! Like this one:

kaleidoscopeKaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

ISBN: 978-1-922101-11-2

August 2014, Twelfth Planet Press

Alisa Krasnostein & Julia Rios (eds.)

Kaleidoscope is one of the best anthologies I have read for a very long time. It’s not just the concept, which is both necessary and overdue; it’s not just the stories, which are engaging and beautiful and thoughtful and brilliant; it’s not just the way the authors explore science fiction and fantasy from perspectives all too frequently unseen in fiction; it’s all of these things, and that it seems so natural. In this anthology, every story takes a character (or two or three) who is often “othered” in fiction (and life), and makes their differences a part of the story. Readers will see themselves, they will see their friends, they will see their families, their cultures, their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their physical and mental states and they will see them as normal, as okay, as special. Not othered. Important and relevant and very very good, Kaleidoscope offers a powerful message to our society about difference, and about what we, as readers, want (and need) to see in our stories.

Some pieces, such as Tansy Rayner Roberts’ “Cookie Cutter Superhero”, offer a biting commentary on popular culture, couched in humour and teen spirit; others, such as “Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu, take a gentler approach, examining first love with a fantasical twist. Some stories shade darker, as with “The Legend Trap” by Sean Williams (set in his Twinmaker universe, an added bonus for fans) and “Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell” by E.C. Myers; still others take a familiar trope and turn it sideways, like Faith Mudge’s “Signature” and “The Lovely Duckling” by Tim Susman. Some of my favourite works in the book were those that embedded the story in the protagonist’s nature, like the magic of Jim C. Hines’ “Chupacabra’s Song” and Karen Healey’s astonishingly good “Careful Magic”. There are so many wonderful stories in the pages of Kaleidoscope that every reader will find a favourite (or two or three), and every reader, teen or adult, will find at least one that speaks to them in deeper ways.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy of the book. Kaleidoscope will launch on August 5, 2014 and can be preordered here.

Review cross-posted to Goodreads.

Book Review: Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres

I don’t usually review books here on the FableCroft site, but like to periodically do so when it’s a book by one of the authors we have published in the past.

PeacemakerI first encountered Peacemaker protagonist Virgin Jackson in de Pierres’ story “Gin Jackson: Neophyte Ranger” (first published in the Agog! Smashing Stories anthology in 2004, and I liked it so much I reprinted in FableCroft’s Australis Imaginarium in 2010). I was delighted to read Peacemaker in graphic version in 2011, and was a bit sad when that format was unable to continue, so it was with huge anticipation I started on the novel version! And I have not been disappointed.

Virgin Jackson is a senior ranger in a themed conservation park; odd things have started to happen to her, and not just finding herself saddled with a US Marshall who is himself just a little strange. When she first finds a dead body where it’s almost impossible for anyone to be, she is essentially accused of the murder, and then is attacked in her home. Not one to stand idly by and let things happen, Virgin starts to investigate for herself, with the help of friends in useful places, and the odd Marshall Sixkiller. What she finds is not at all what she expects…

There are several changes that have occurred from the original short story to the novel-length edition. Focus is by necessity shifted for the longer form, and while the book is still (in my eyes) very Australian, I can also see where some elements have been altered to give the story a more international tone, and that both works very well on a plot level as well as being a sensible move in terms of audience.

In another incarnation, de Pierres writes crime fiction, and her experience in both a science fictional setting and a mystery one offer a deftness of touch here. Peacemaker rollicks along at a cracking pace, and I found myself holding my breath in anticipation at times, which is always a good sign! The character of Virgin is vivid and wonderfully acerbic, and I found both she and the supporting cast so well realised they really bounced off the page. With that combination, I got to the end of the book and flipped the last page in disappointment, because while the story ended well (albeit definitely set up for the next volume), I simply didn’t want it to stop. Bring on the next instalment!

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy of the book. It is available in ebook from your favourite e-tailer or ask your bookstore about the paperback.

Book Review: The Other Tree by D.K. Mok

I don’t usually review books here on the FableCroft site, but like to periodically do so when it’s a book by one of the authors we have published in the past. D.K. Mok appeared in One Small Step in 2013 with the story “Morning Star”, a novelette length, far reaching, space-based science fiction story that is thoughtful and exciting by turns. The Other Tree is D.K.’s 2014 debut novel, from the publisher Spence City, and while I’ve seen it noted as urban fantasy, I’m not sure it quite fits that genre marker – it’s one of those books that is tricky to classify as anything but “put it on your to-read list”!

17314951If Seanan McGuire had written The Da Vinci Code, the outcome might have been a little like The Other Tree! Given I adore Seanan’s work and think The Da Vinci Code could have been quite fascinating in the hands of a different author, this is definitely a compliment.

I don’t know much about the heritage behind this story but the religious, scientific and geographic elements, whether real or invented, are believably written, and underpin an action packed yet inherently character driven story.

The book rollicks along very nicely, maintaining tension and gradually unpacking characters along the way. I absolutely loved cryptobotanist Chris and conflicted Luke, and their personal journeys are as important to the novel as the overarching plot. Even the secondary characters are multi-faceted and interesting, although I have to say if I have one nitpick, it was with the random head hopping of perspective in a couple of places. Otherwise though, an impressive debut for a very talented writer! Mok is most definitely on my “want more” list!

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy of the book. It is available in ebook from your favourite e-tailer or ask your bookstore about the paperback.

Ink Black Magic is nearly at the printer!

Liquid Gold Cover LASTThe final book of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Mocklore series, Ink Black Magic, will be released just as soon as we finalise the very beautiful cover (soon…!). While this book is an excellent standalone novel, it does have ties to Splashdance Silver and Liquid Gold – have you read them yet?

What people have said about the Mocklore Chronicles (some of these reviews are from when the books were first released in paperback, 15 years ago!):

“…made me laugh out loud on a bus full of people…” (Fran, Goodreads)

“…an undiscovered gem in my opinion. Funny, intricate and exciting – Kassa and her band of merry pirates are such a wonderful team of misfits in a world for misfits.” (AlexEatsBooks, Goodreads)

“Magical. Such detail. A bloody blast.” (Lisa Gormley, Goodreads)

“…this is comic fantasy, and very much in the Pratchett vein. There are witches and pirates, eccentric characters, and other odds and ends – the novel even opens with a view of Mocklore from space ala Pratchett. What is important, though, is that Roberts entertains. This kind of fiction depends upon inventiveness and timing – the author has to be able to produce a non-stop flow of new and interesting characters and situations, while never forgetting that the point is to make us laugh. It is something that Terry Pratchett had made his stock in trade, and it’s a skill that Roberts is clearly learning.” (Jonathan Strahan, Eidolon)

“Tansy Rayner Roberts should be a name we’ll be hearing for a long time to come.” (Jonathan Strahan, Eidolon)

The magic of Bujold – rereading and a journey of discovery

Alex has never read anything by Bujold. Tehani is a long-time fan. Welcome to a conversation of discovery and re-reading that will undoubtedly include a lot of squeeing, spoilers, and misdirected guesses from Alex. Also a fair bit of meta-commentary, since we can’t help ourselves.

Cordelia’s Honor (sic) omnibus: Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

I can’t believe Bujold has never had an Australian print run; are we really that small a market that someone with so many Hugo nominations hasn’t been formally brought to our attention? I only heard about the series from Tehani and Tansy, who raved about it. I am actually quite happy, and lucky, to be able to read these in books in internal chronological order (barring any prequels she may see fit to write!), although a little sad that I don’t get the joy of reading this omnibus as a prequel, since I’m sure most long-time devotees of Miles were immensely excited to read his parents’ story. I’m also immensely pleased that I have so many more books to read, already published, and am not in the position of my friends who pounced on Cryoburn like so many starving wolves. I hadn’t realised just how hooked I was, by the way, until I finished Shards of Honour in two days and just kept ploughing right on into Barrayar almost without realising…

TEHANI:
It’s quite amazing really that this is the first Vorkosigan book (Falling Free, set some centuries prior to the Vorkosigan period, is set in the same universe, but isn’t a Vorkosigan book, so I don’t count it) in both internal and external chronology. Such a huge amount of world- and character-building happens in even the first few chapters, without ever being info-dumpish – it’s an astonishing feat for an author, and just one of the things I adore about Bujold!

ALEX:

I absolutely agree. The universe Bujold has created puts me slightly in mind of the Hainish universe of le Guin – people have been (re)discovered and brought (back) into a galactic-wide society. There is a mention of the Time of Isolation, from which it’s obvious that there’s been some galactic community in the past from which some planets, at least, have been sundered for some period of time. In Barrayar we discover that that planet has only been brought back into communion 80 years ago, which seems a remarkably short period of time for that planet and society to acclimatise to galactic standards and norms – which some individuals actually haven’t managed.

The characters:
Meeting Aral and Cordelia like this, for readers of the Miles-proper books, was surely a fascinating experience. It makes me wonder whether they are known as the Butcher of Komarr and the Killer of Vorrutyer to Miles’ acquaintances, in the later books?

I like Cordelia. I was surprised by how quickly Bujold had Cordelia and Aral fall in love, but I guess it was a case of extreme circumstance.

TEHANI:
It seems the romance between Cordelia and Aral does happen very suddenly, but I think it works, in this instance. Aral’s stumbling proposal is very sweet in his hesitancy, and Cordelia’s reaction to it is wonderful in the way it defies the normal expectations of romance tropes. The relationship development could be viewed to support the idea (posited in the movie Speed!) that pressure forces ties to form more quickly and of stranger bedfellows than the normal course of daily life allows. But the characterisation shown for Cordelia and Aral really allows the reader to see the inherent connection between them.

Aral may have other motives (conscious or unconscious, it’s difficult to judge here – I’d be interested to hear what you say on this, without the benefit of having read the later books!), but his genuine admiration for Cordelia’s strength, wit and intelligence is obvious. In turn, Cordelia is drawn to Aral despite her clear distaste for the society he comes from. This mutual connection is not for the usual romance reasons: there is not an instant physical response – neither are described as classical beauties! – nor is there immediate, unwarranted, trust. Instead, in just a few chapters, trust is earned, insights into each other unfold, and although it takes place in a short span of time, the relationship seems real. It’s a very skilled piece of writing that delicately subverts the romance tropes to become a believable developing relationship.

ALEX:

I can’t so far tell that there might be other motives on Aral’s part to falling for, or choosing, Cordelia. The sap in me hopes that I never get dissuaded of that romanticism!

I really liked that Cordelia is old! – well, by romance standards anyway; 33! Practically haggard! And surely beyond romantic entanglements… I particularly enjoyed the sense of duty and responsibility and common sense that attended this positively elderly romance – connected with the quiet desperation in their eyes. But back to Cordelia – she’s strong, and smart; a little bit broken by the past but resilient; a good leader, and someone I could definitely enjoy knowing. I admire her resourcefulness and was appropriately shocked by her ruthlessness on a few occasions.

Aral is awesome. Again, older; and it may be somewhat heretical to make this comparison, but I can’t help seeing the similarities between him and Eddings’ Sparhawk. World weary, largely unflappable, no beauty, violent when necessary, intensely loyal and honorable. I like the humanity that Bujold shows in his sensitivity to Cordelia, and towards his men too. He and Cordelia complement each other nicely, I feel. Having Aral be bisexual was an immensely interesting choice, too – up to that point I’d had no idea that this would be anything but a universe where heterosexuality was the only acceptable mode (maybe the Miles books are full of non-hetero sexuality and this is something Bujold fans expect; again, I look forward to finding out).

TEHANI:
Sparhawk, yes!! I agree, some readers might find that heretical, and the books the two appear in could not BE more different, but there are definite similarities in their characterisations!

ALEX:

It’s so wrong, isn’t it?

Bothari is … complicated.

And Miles? Well, I really hadn’t expected that he would be – what’s the right word? – malformed? Not completely physically perfect, anyway. I think I had assumed I was getting myself into a series where the hero was a fairly typical hero, to be honest. Although I was shocked by the attack on Cordelia and Aral, and the fact that theantidote had such an impact on the fetus Miles, I admit that I expected that the doctor’s work would come out perfectly and the Count would have to eat his words. To have him born with bones so fragile that one breaks in the first 30 seconds, and the Count then renouncing familial ties (although that’s somewhat resolved in the epilogue)… I realised at that point that this was not going to be the sort of series I was expecting.

TEHANI:
I think Miles’s imperfections are part of the reason we adore this world so much. That he has so much to overcome from the very beginning makes him far more fascinating than if he’d been handed looks, ability and brains on a platter! You’ve moved on into Barrayar here, which while second in internal chronology, was actually the seventh book published, and it’s really interesting that Bujold went back to fill out the circumstances surrounding Miles’ birth. These two books work really well as a duology, which is brilliant given they weren’t written or published in order!

ALEX:

I really am amazed that they were written so far apart. They flow so seamlessly together! It really would have driven me wild to read them out of order. Also- yes, I can imagine that Miles’ imperfections are very attractive, in a hero.

The worlds:
Barrayar and Beta Colony are (literally) worlds apart, and I’m now wild to find out where Miles spends most of his time – at one quarter through Barrayar I guessed Beta Colony, because there’s so much more on Barrayar that it seems like it might be filling in gaps for readers. Barrayar is a fairly recognisable military-dominated world – recognisable from other SF/fantasy that is – with attendant philosophies and values. It’s Beta Colony that fascinates me, though, because it is a more classically science fictional world: uterine replicators, hermaphrodites, parental licenses, a liberal view on sexuality … yet all of this takes place of a planet that’s happy to use drugs on someone to get information, is unwilling to believe their officer’s testimony, and has a President that apparently no one voted for. Deliciously complicated. I can’t wait to find out more.

TEHANI:
Oh, so MUCH more to come for you! 🙂

ALEX:

The narrative itself:
I really enjoy being thrown straight into the action when it’s done well – which is something I can’t define – and Shards of Honour definitely manages that. Traitors, unlikely alliances, honour … so much goes on in what is a relatively short book. I was horrified by the actions of Vorrutyer, of course, and Bothari doesn’t really make those circumstances any better … but Aral bursting in on the scene is marvellous, and would surely play well on screen! The reception of Cordelia at home, and then her efforts to get away without betraying herself or Vorkosigan, are nail-biting indeed. I jumped straight into Barrayar after Shards, so I admit they muddle together in my head – but I love the vision of Cordelia turning up unannounced as Aral starts on a binge, and that their relationship just goes on from there. Civil war is always an interesting narrative mode for setting up alliances and world politics, and for outlining personalities too. I enjoyed the action bits of Cordelia and Drou etc running off to rescue the replicator with Miles in it, although it did feel just a little out of place – direct violence and action had been removed from the story for what felt like a long time. It was nice to have the conclusion with the Vorkosigan family making some attempts at reconciliation with each other, and I’ve no doubt this sets things up for the rest of the series.

Questions I’m left with:

Will Bothari and Elena feature in the Miles books? What about Kou and Drou (gotta say, that’s a bit tacky), Piotr, Gregor and Ivan? Will bone density continue to be an issue? Do we visit more than just Barrayar and Beta Colony? Will I continue to be hooked??

TEHANI:
I can only answer one of those questions without venturing into spoiler territory so I’m just going to go with the easy one – YES, YOU WILL CONTINUE TO BE HOOKED! 🙂

ALEX:

Awesome 😀

FableCroft ReviewCast

Subscribe to the FableCroft ReviewCast at iTunes!

Episode 1, in which I discuss:

“Stormlord Rising” by Glenda Larke

“Wizard Squared” by KE Mills

“Earth to Hell” by Kylie Chan

“The Griffin’s Flight” by KJ Taylor

Episode 2, talking about Young Adult books:

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Fire by Kristin Cashore

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

How to ditch your fairy by Justine Larbalestier