Women of Fantasy challenge

An unconventional fantasy book. This is the last book I read last year.
It’s a Women of Fantasy book club book.

Publication year: 2009
Format: print
Page count: 334
Publisher: TOR

I thought this is a stand alone fantasy book but it’s apparently first in a series; the sequel should come out this year.

Indigo Springs is set, mostly, in a small town in US called Indigo Springs. The book has a rather unconventional structure. The book starts with a first person narrator, Will, and is written in present tense. However, the next chapter is set in the past with a third person narrator, Astrid, and written in the past tense. The chapters alternate although there are often two or three past chapters in a row.

The book puts the reader right in the middle of things and lets the reader figure things out. Will Forest is a hostage negotiator and interviews Astrid Lethewood, who is believed to be responsible for introducing lethal magics to the world. Astrid is being held in a bunker by the US government, and charged with murder and kidnapping. She seems to be able to see the future and is not always clear on when in time she is. Patience is another woman with access to magic; she can change her appearance and also change herself to mist, and leave the bunker whenever she wants. She’s Astrid’s companion but doesn’t seem to be charged with anything. Astrid agrees to talk with Will because he has brought her some magical supplies. She tells him how everything started; how magic came to the world and changed a lot of things into a nightmare. That story is told in the past chapters.

Sahara Knax is another woman with access to magic and she has been able to get a lot of supporters, including Will’s wife and kids. Sahara is claiming to be responsible for many of the environmental crisis which seem to be happening all over the world. Sahara and Astrid are best friends so the government is trying to use Astrid as a hostage against Sahara.

It all began when Astrid, Jacks, and Sahara moved into the house which Astrid’s father Albert left for her when he died. Jacks, Jackson, is the son of Olive whom Astrid’s father married after he divorced Astrid’s mother Ev. Sahara had just found out that boyfriend has cheated on her and dumped him, taking his car. Astrid has loved Sahara for years so she offered her a place to stay, and is secretly hoping that she won’t leave again.

While sorting out her father’s things, Astrid finds a few knick knacks which turn out to be magical. Soon, she finds out that house has bigger secrets, too.

The cast of characters is delightful. Astrid is a rather serious young woman who just wants to be loved. Because her father spent a lot of money and couldn’t be counted on to work, Astrid had to take over his gardening business and she’s still making a living with it. She loves plants and gardening. She’s also desperate to keep the people she loves in her life. She’s very responsible and altruistic, wanting to help people with the magic she discovers. However, she doesn’t want others to know that in the present.

Her quirky mother Ev went bonkers when Astrid’s father died. Ev is the local mailman and she loves a mystery book series about a crime solving mailman. When Albert died a year ago, Ev became convinced that he was murdered and took the persona of the mystery solving mailman – including the main character’s maleness. Astrid has to call her “Pop” and Ev calls Astrid “son” because the fictional mailman has a boy as a sidekick. That what both hilarious and very sad.

Sahara turns out to be rather selfish person. She has hinted at Astrid that they might be together, but then she left town with a new boyfriend. She’s not very happy at such a small town. She’s very sociable and quickly gathers up her old circle of friends. She’s bored easily and is really angry towards her cheating ex.

Jacks is a vegetarian and desperately avoiding his father who is the local Fire Chief. His mother Olive and Astrid’s father Albert seem to have been married for just a few years and Astrid was already 18 when they married. Jacks’ father is determined that Jacks will follow in his footsteps as a fireman. While Jacks is rather heroic person, he has no interest in a fireman’s career; he wants to be an artist.

In contrast, Will, the narrator of the chapters set in the present, pales. He’s gone through traumatic experiences, when his wife left and effectively kidnapped their kids, but I never felt that I actually knew him as well as the three characters above. Will is an old friend of Roche, the commander of the station which is holding Astrid. All of the characters were very human, with their own agendas.

The magic is very interesting. I don’t think I’ve seen anything really similar. Most of it is through magic items, or chantements. Only a chanter can create chantements but it seems that anyone can use them. There’s also the compilation of magic which flows like blue water and is called vitagua. Here, magic is dangerous and using it will have consequences both from the magic and the people who want to destroy all witches. There’s also a scientific reason behind magic. Magic has rules and bad things happen when people try to go around them. However, I was less convinced about the so-called enemy. How could they even know about magic, let alone track it?

Unlike in most books, here mixing magic with modern people is disastrous. Many see it as a way to get more power to themselves and some are just caught in the events. Magic also affects nature and the environment.

I really enjoyed this book. The pacing is excellent once you get used to the back and fourth between present and past. It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but the story clearly needs a sequel.

The first in an SF trilogy rooted in Norse mythology.

Publication year: 2008
Page count: 370
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

The story starts with Ragnarok. Some of the einherjar and the walcyrie have become tainted, and they have turned against their brethren. In the fight in the snow, they and the creatures of darkness kill each other. Only Muire, the smallest and the least of the waelcyrge, is still alive because she ran away in the middle of the fighting. She will call herself a coward for the rest of her life. Only one other person is alive on the battlefield; Kasimir who is a walcyrie’s steed, a valraven. His rider is dead and he’s gravely wounded. Together, Muire and Kasimir managed to beat off the final attack and survive it. Kasimir chooses Muire as his rider but she feels that she’s not worthy and isolates herself from the valraven. The third survivor is Mingan, the Grey Wolf, a tainted one and Suneater who betrayed his brethren to the other tainted.

Over two millenia go by. The humans have built another world and that, too, is nearing the end. Eiledon is the last human city and it’s still alive in the middle of acid rain and desolation because of the Techonmancer Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir who protects the city. Muire has isolated herself from the humans but then she feels the Grey Wolf is near again and has killed someone. Muire finds the victim who is near death and draws the man’s soul into herself. The victim requires vengeance against his killer who is, indeed, Mingan. Also, the city’s law enforcement are hunting both the killer and Muire.

The setting here is stunning and I loved it! It’s a mixture of science fiction and fantasy; the valraven and walcyrie are magical creatures and they use magic, yet they live in a society where cyborgs exist and food comes from vats. The Technomancer has created a species to serve her, the moreaux who seem to have been originally various animals and are now animal-looking humans, just stronger and quicker. (And named after H. G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau.) They have names out of Greek mythology like Selene and Helios. There are also humans who have been mutated because of battle viruses unleashed in wars. The people take care to categorize everyone accordingly to truman, halfman, unman… and only trumans have rights to education. Most of the people have Icelandic sounding names.

The world is, admittedly, bleak. Most of the characters live in appalling conditions and must earn their food by fighting for the entertainment of others and whoring. They die of diseases because they don’t have the money to pay for medicines. Only the Technomancer and those close to her live in abundance.

Muire finds out that some of her former brethren have come back, reincarnated into these brief lived humans. Cathoair is the reborn war leader of the einherjiar whom Muire loved from afar. It breaks her heart to see Cathoair as a fighter for entertainment and then whoring himself. Cathoair’s life isn’t easy by any means and we get to see some of his past.

All of the character are flawed and broken. They’d endured horrible things but still carry on somehow. Muire has isolated herself from humans because they die so quickly. All the time she thinks of herself as a coward and a weakling; a failure. She used to be a historian, poet, and a smith before Ragnarok. She’s also weakened from the fight and the long time that she took to bury the dead. Earlier, she didn’t need to sleep and didn’t get tired. Now, while she can’t age, she does feel hot and cold and gets tired. Kasimir is worried that he’s once gain let down his rider and is doing his best not to pressure Muire. Even Mingan is looking for some sort of a way to continue living after what he has done, although we don’t see his POV much. Ironically, the most balance character in the book might be the moreau Selene who has been built to serve and has no choice in the matter.

Yet the themes of the book are surviving horrible situations and mistakes, moving on, and continuing to live. Even redemption.

The Norse mythology is most seen in the character Muire, who sometimes calls herself a angel. She talks about serving the Light and the All-Father. The human society has a religion loosely based on what happened at Ragnarok and Mingan is their devil. I was a bit bemused to see that the World Serpent, called the Bearer of Burdens, was expected to fight alongside light.

Sex and violence are intertwined in the book. Both of Cathoair’s lovers (a woman and a man) are also fighting in the ring and he beats on them there. Mingan’s and Muire’s relationship is also mixed with both. Muire loathes him because of his betrayal and tries to hurt him while Mingan desires Muire. Mingan can draw others’ breath, and life essence (memories, even memories from previous lives and energy so sustain himself), and this is done by mouth contact; kissing. It can be painful but Mingan can make it pleasurable, too. A bit later in the story, Mingan gives Muire back her full powers and I’m not entire comfortable with that but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be.

Overall, I liked the twists in the plot. Muire is the main POV character but there are several others, too.

I’m not sure if I like all the aspects of the ending but I’m curious to find out where the story goes next. However, it can be read as a stand-alone; the story wraps up in the end.

The May book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 1987
Page count: 327
Format: ebook from the 2001 reprint with introduction by the author and an appendix with three scenes from the screenplay
Publisher: Orb

Eddi McCandry is a singer and a musician in her boyfriend’s band, InKline Plain. Unfortunately for her, she and her best friend, the drummer Carla, are probably the best musicians in the band which is doing pretty badly. Eddi’s boyfriend and the band leader Stuart Kline just wants Eddi to flirt with the bar managers to get more gigs or payments for underwhelming gigs. Eddi has had enough and quits the band and the relationship. Carla quits the band, too.

On her way to her apartment, Eddi meets a strange man and a big black dog. It turns out that the dog and the man are the same thing: a faerie creature called the Phouka. The Seelie Court needs a mortal in its service and has chosen Eddi. She’s less than thrilled, especially when she finds out that the Unseelie Court are trying to kill her and so the charmingly unflappable Phouka will be her bodyguard for the next six months until the Faerie Courts battle each other. Which means that he will be on her side all the time.

Meanwhile, Eddi has to eat and pay rent, so she sets out to do what she knows best: to build a band of her own.

The book is set in Minneapolis and a lot centers on the day-to-day life of a rock band. I’m not a music fan, in fact I’ve never even been to a concert, and this was sufficiently alien world to me that it felt interesting. Often, the songs that the band is playing or rehearsing are mentioned, and since I’m reading an ebook, I was able to play the songs on the computer while reading the book. This is was an interesting experience.

I liked the characters. Eddi is an independent woman with a strong will and plenty of opinions. She’s also charismatic on the stage and outside of it. She’s a fun main character to follow. I also liked her best friend Carla, who plays the drums. She’s fiercely protective of Eddi and Carla is the first person Eddi tells about the faery world even though the Phouka objects to it. The ex-boyfriend has a small part. Then there’s the rest of the band who are pretty eccentric characters but slowly become friends.

Phouka is the most prominent fairy character in the book. He’s very loyal to Eddi and we only get glimpses of how often he has to fight to protect her. He doesn’t tell her anything that he doesn’t want to which is frustrating at times. He’s torn between loyalty to his Queen, to his people, and to Eddi. Yet, he’s often cheerful and banters happily with Eddi. I liked him perhaps the most.

Most of the fairy characters remain nameless which I found interesting and made them more alien. We only know them by their title, such as the Fairy Queen or the Queen of Air and Darkness, or by the name of their kind, their race, such as the Phouka and the Glaistig. In fact, only three fairy characters are named: a brownie called Hairy Meg, the Seelie Queen’s Consort, and one other.

The concentrates on slowly revealing more about the customs and people of the Faery world, and on the mortal plane, the band.

The book centers on Eddi so much that it’s almost frustrating to me. There were so much other things going on that I would have liked to learn more about. There’s the conflicts between the Phouka and agents of the Unseelie Court. There’s Stuart whose part turns out to be pretty important (in fact, we get quite a bit more of Stuart’s tale in the appendix). Then there’s the larger conflict between the two faerie courts which, by necessity, isn’t revealed much at all to the mortals.

I liked the start of the book a lot. Then I noticed that the name of one of the early chapter is “It’s so easy to fall in love” and I almost stopped reading the book in frustration. However, it didn’t feel like the current paranormal romances, so I continued and I’m glad, because I liked the book quite a lot.

The book has two romances. Fortunately, neither of them were the paranormal romance kind which I’ve started to loath. There are no asshole jerk “heroes” in the book. The first one was OK. To me it felt at the same time more realistic than usual for UF but it also felt like fairy tale like romance if that makes any sense. Especially how it was resolved. Unfortunately, the second one didn’t really work for me. It felt one of those tacked on romances where the hetero man and woman become lovers because there’s apparently nothing else they can do in a book. I would have much preferred it if they had become reluctant allies or best friends or anything else than the bog standard hetero monogamous pair bond. This is something where I feel that fantasy constantly lets me down by going for the easiest option pretty much every single time. Fortunately, the romances aren’t the main plot at all.

The ending was awesome!

As I understand it, this book was originally a stand-alone but then Priest was contracted to write two independent sequels. Not surprisingly, it works as a stand-alone. It’s the April book in the Women of Fantasy book club.

Publication year: 2005
Page count: 285
Format: ebook
Publisher: Tor

Eden Moore is an orphan. Her mother died in childbirth and she never knew her father. Her mother’s sister Lulu took her in and is raising her. However, Lulu doesn’t talk about the past which is frustrating to Eden. You see, Eden can see ghosts. She sees the ghosts of three women who claim to be her ancestors. But the only thing Eden knows about them is that they were murdered. She doesn’t see them all the time, just when things are stressful or dangerous. However, the three women also protect her. When Eden is eight years old, a crazy gunman comes after her and the ghosts warn about him.

However, when Eden grows older, she wants to know more about her family and past.

The book starts when Eden is very young and in a couple of chapters we follow her into adulthood where the main story takes place.

This is a very atmospheric book about the US South. Eden and Lulu are mixed race women which brings difficulties. I found some people around them unforgivably rude for asking about their race but apparently that’s how some people behave. This has made them both strong women who don’t take crap from anyone. That is good because Eden encounters some hair raising things in the story and her extended family aren’t pleasant people, either. Eden is feisty and sharp tongued; she likes or dislikes people quickly.

The characters feel life-like to me, except perhaps the main villain. Eden’s aunt wants to leave her painful past behind her and so doesn’t talk about it. Lulu and her mother are estranged for fifteen years because they can’t talk to each other. Eden’s grandaunt is white and doesn’t even want to acknowledge her mix raced relatives. The grandaunt is apparently mean to everyone around her. The gunman Malachi thinks that he has a mission from God and kills people for Him. Sadly, all of these people are very plausible.

The horror aspects of the book are probably mild for horror fans but I’m not a horror reader. For me, they were enough as a spice in the book. There wasn’t much gore which was good because I dislike it.

One episode felt a bit disconnected to me: when Eden is 13 she’s sent to a summer camp where she meets another girl who can see ghosts. Then, this girl is never seen again. It establishes that other people can see ghosts, too, but otherwise it was pretty pointless although horrific. The added horror was, of course, that the girls are children and the adults wouldn’t have believed them if the girls had told them about the ghost. However, even at such a young age, they have already learned not talk about it.

The main villain feels a bit cartoon-like to me but he fits well into the atmosphere of the book and the sense of history that surrounds most of the latter half of the book.

It’s a short book and the story is a quick read, especially after the half-way point when the plot picks up. The start of the book is mostly setting up the characters and the atmosphere. I felt that the first half of the book also had more horror elements although maybe they just stood out more to me at the start.

I’ve been intrigued by Priest’s steampunk books and after this one I’m likely to try them when my TBR pile gets smaller.

The first book in the Inheritance fantasy trilogy. The cover is gorgeous!

Publication year: 2010
Format: Print
Page count: 412
Publisher: Orbit

Yeine Darr is a young woman from the small and poor kingdom of Darr. Her mother was the daughter of the man who rules the whole world and was destined to rule it after her father, but she abdicated and left when she fell in love with Yeine’s father. Now, Yeine’s mother was assassinated about a year ago and Yeine’s grandfather Dekarta Arameri sends for Yeine. She travels for several months in order to get to the floating palace of Sky where the Arameri family rule the world. She doesn’t really know what to expect and is shocked when Dekarta declares Yeine his third heir. The other two heirs are Dekarta’s brother’s children who have been preparing their whole lives for this chance. The heirs are supposed to scheme against each other for the honor of becoming the next ruler of the world.

A couple of thousand years ago, the gods warred and the winner was Itempas, the Bright Skylord. He killed Enefas, the goddess of life, and made the other gods slaves and gave them to the Arameri so that the enslaved gods could work for humans and make penance for turning against him. Itempas also made it illegal to worship any other god and the Amnites enforce this law by killing any heretics they find.

Yeine knows that the Arameri are cruel and evil, and she can’t win against them. Despite her young age, she’s not yet twenty, she was the ruler of her small kingdom which is a rare matriarchy. Everyone else in Sky, even the servants, consider her a barbarian who can’t survive long in Sky’s cutthroat political landscape.

The book promises to be about politics with a side order of discussion about slavery or perhaps divinity. But it doesn’t really do that. The real plot (twist) is introduced about half-way through and I won’t spoil it here. Unfortunately, I managed to spoil myself which clearly affected by expectations.

The story is told in a first person POV and it quickly becomes clear that Yeine is telling the story to someone. There are short passages at the start of chapters and sometimes in the middle of them when she says something aside or tells old myths. I rather liked that writing style.

There’s no delicate politicking in the book. It was made clear early on that the true power rests with Dekarta and the two heirs, and not the Consortium where decisions and laws are supposedly made. Neither of the heirs are interested in any sort of alliance; Scimina is the strong, ambitious one and she never even considers Yeine to be anything else than a pawn. Her brother Relad has apparently accepted his fate as the loser. Unfortunately, this made it pretty impossible for Yeine do any scheming or politicking. She does it a little in order to save the impoverished Darr but very quickly Scimina warns her that she can’t do anything about that, either. So, politicking is very blunt.

Unfortunately, to me this made Yeine a bit bland character. She has no chance of affecting her fate and very soon she doesn’t even try. On the other hand, she’s a great concept: a bi-racial woman who is never too white to be an Amnite and never too dark to be a true Darre. We get to hear about her childhood and I suspect that her mother was never really accepted and neither was she. She didn’t really have a home. When she comes to Sky, she wants revenge on her mother’s murderer whom she suspect is Dekarte. She also wants to know more about her mother’s life on Sky.

Yeine’s from a matriarchal warrior society and yet, not once does she have a problem with interacting with many males who clearly have power, especially over her. (Lets face it, sexist male POV characters do make sexist and misogynistic comments, if not out loud then at least to the reader.) Yeine took is as a matter of course. We also get only little snippets about Darre culture which I would have loved to see more.

The scheming Scimina is perhaps the strongest character in the book; she wants power and will do anything to get it. Then there’s T’vril, who is also Dekarta’s brother’s son but demoted to a servant, and Viraine the head scribe who is also responsible for magic use. The gods are very interesting. Nahadoth is the Nightlord, the god of sex chaos, and he was the first god in existence. Now, he’s reduced to a slave; used and abused by mere mortals. Sieh is the god of mischief; he’s innocent like a child and still abused horribly. Sieh and Yeine develop a great friendship.

All of the gods (except Itempas, of course) are bound to a mortal vessel but retain some of their godly abilities so that they can better serve the Arameri. In the Nightlord’s case that’s literal: during the night he’s mentally himself, but during the day his personality is suppressed by a mortal man who is just as cruel as the Arameri, and still a slave.

I really liked the myths and the way that the ruling priesthood has changed them and suppressed them. I also love the world-building; the whole gods being slaves idea, Amn conquering rest of the world, and the twisted Arameri family itself. The Arameri are, in fact, a numerous family. However, most of them are servants because they are only half- or quarter blooded. Still, when the sun goes down and the Nightlord gets most of his power back, only people with Arameri blood in them are able to survive in Sky. I really love the concept of floating city but the city itself wasn’t described enough.

Oh, yes. There was also a romance. In fact, the romance was the biggest part of the latter half. Alas, I don’t really care for heroines who fall for men who try to kill her. (Where does that trope come from? An apologia for domestic abuse??) Here, Yeine explains it somewhat as the lust for danger and she’s likely to die quickly anyway. Still, it’s one of my squicks. And I rolled my eyes at the over the top sex scene.

At the end of the book, there are three appendices. One is a list of terms and characters. The other two I liked a lot: a short Clarification of Terms used about the enslaved gods, and a short history of how the Arameri got the used of the enslaved gods.

The next book, the Broken Kingdom, is apparently urban fantasy. I love the concept of having different sub-genres in the same series so I’ll probably get that one.

I’ve already found the first reading challenge I’ll be participating next year: Women of Fantasy which is hosted by Jawas Read, Too! .

The participants will read one book every month and discuss it. The books are:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Elfland By Freda Warrington
Prospero Lost by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier
Elizabeth Bear: All the Windwracked Stars
A. M. Dellamonica: Indigo Springs
Firebird by Mercedes Lackey
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
The Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee
The last book is going to be something the readers suggest.

The only one of of the list that I’ve read is “Tooth and Claw” which was quite good. I own the books by Bull, Priest, and Jemsin so it’s a good excuse to get them out of the to-be-read pile and actually read them. I’m a fan of Bear so it’s a good excuse to get her book. “Indigo Springs”, “Elfland”, and “The Gaslight Dogs” all look interesting and many people have praised “Prospero Lost”.

It looks like it’s going to be fun!