Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review: The Eyes of Tamburah

The Eyes of Tamburah The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75 Stars, bumped to 4 because this really should be published in the US, Harper Voyager. Come on!

Popular YA author Maria V. Snyder (Study series, Glass series) has begun her new Archives of the Invisible Sword series by introducing us to Shyla, a young woman who is largely ostracized in her community thanks to her blonde hair. Dubbed "Sun-Kissed" by those around her, the fate that usually awaits the fair-haired is death in the searing desert above Zirdai. Zirdai is an underground city where the deepest levels represent safety from lethal sun exposure and access to water. The deepest levels of this subterranean world are those occupied by the Water Prince and the Heliacal Priestess (who would love to see Shyla thrown out to die from sun exposure) the two powerful and opposing forces of Zirdai. Raised until age eighteen by monks who rescued her from being a sacrifice to the Sun Goddess, Shyla has kept a low profile after choosing to live in Zirdai, rather than becoming a monk like those who rescued her. She is living on the edge of safety, on level three, eking out a living doing historical artifact research until her friend Banqui loses a legendary treasure that her research helped him find. The Eyes of Tamburah, a relic that supposedly grants the possessor magical powers, is sought by the two opposing powers of Zirdai who are more than a bit dissatisfied upon hearing Banqui say they have been stolen from him. When he is arrested for their theft by the Water Prince, a man with a reputation for torture, Shyla seeks to help her only friend recover the lost Eyes.

Snyder has created aa fascinating world in Zirdai. In a pronounced difference from her earlier Inside Out series, the deeper levels of Zirdai are for the most privileged as they are better distanced from the unforgiving sun. Shyla is a lonely character for whom the reader feels great sympathy. Unfortunately, I didn't always feel that some of the secondary characters were as well drawn as Shyla and some of the turnabouts for characters like Rendor and Jayden felt a bit thin. The pacing of the novel slowed in a few places as Shyla is forced to go up and down again and again through the levels of Zirdai, in pursuit of items or information that will help her in the task of recovering the Eyes and freeing Banqui. I was also left with uncertainty about several figures in the story based on where the Eyes are actually finally located. I'm hoping a lot will be cleared up with 2020's publication of the second book in the series, The City of Zirdai. And I hope that HarperCollins will get a move on publishing this novel in the USA.

CW: mentions/brief descriptions of torture, something that may give nightmares to readers that the protagonist chooses to do, and scenes of tight spaces that may be difficult to read for those with claustrophobia.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Hossain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bandgladeshi author Saad Hossain (Djinn City) has written a wry novel about the awakening of a long buried (for millennia!) djinn king by the name of Melek Ahmar, Lord of Mars, The Red King, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of the Djinn. He's awakened by melting ice, in the Kanchenjunga in the high Himalayas. This melting business is your first clue that we are dealing with a a sort of post-climate apocalyptic future. He encounters a lone gurkha by the name of Bhan Gurung who lives in cave (one would almost think he was hiding out there) and keeps track of the goings on in the world by a streaming system called the Virtuality. The second hint we are dealing with a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future is that nearby Kathmandu, one of the only cities to survive, is controlled by some sort of vast tech called Karma. The climate, controlled by nanites, is maintained for the safety, wellbeing, and convenience of all citizens. *cough* Karma is all-knowing and all-seeing, in part by virtue of a personal medical device (PMD) implanted in every citizen. It's called an Echo. (Yep!) The Echo allows citizens to interface with the Virtuality directly, and access physical services like transportation, homes, and food vats. (Sounds yummy.) It also might be a means for say, scoring people on a karma scale. You know, like a numerical caste system? It's not like those numbers really mean anything, or that anyone could rig the system or anything. (BTW, Bhan Gurung has removed his PMD in order to stay off Karma's radar, or perhaps due to other reasons, like overall objection to the entire process?) Bhan and Melek Ahmar, Lord of Tuesday, sneak into Kathmandu because a king needs a kingdom and all. And requisite mischief ensues.

This rollicking satire has me interested in reading Djinn City, because Hossain has a wonderful sense of satire.

I received a paper review copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Jade War

Jade War Jade War by Fonda Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this jaw-dropping sequel to Jade City, Fonda Lee keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. As the Kaul family battles to remain in the fray, to remain alive in the Kekon jade world, Lee broadens the scope of the story by setting portions in Espenia and the Uwiwan Islands. Following the stories of Kaul Hilo, Kaul Shae, Kaul Maik Wen and Emery Anden, we see ever mounting pressure on the No Peak Clan. Moving forward a year from the events of Jade City, Anden is sent to study in Port Massey. While he considers it exile, Shae and Hilo consider it an important opportunity to expand their presence into Espenia. And with his green heart, whether he wears jade or not, Anden soon encounters the expat Kekonese community that secretly wears jade. Meanwhile, back in Kekon, Hilo and the Maiks face growing strife with Zapunyo, a purveyor of illegal jade based out of the nearby Uwiwan Islands. They surmise the Mountain is involved, but how? And early on, Ayt Mada, Pillar of the Mountain, exploits the vulnerabilities of No Peak's Weatherman, Kaul Shae by bringing to light painful information about Shae's past, shaking the No Peak Clan and the Kekon community.

This world is so vividly envisioned that the reader feels like they are wearing jade, Perceiving these characters, these unfolding events. This second book is even more powerful than the first, in its exploration of honor and sacrifice. There were moments so chilling that I had to take a break from reading, and other moments so searing that I did the same. I continue to admire Shae's strength of character, her loyalty to her family, and her willingness to sacrifice for them in spite of her initial reluctance to be part of the dark world of the Jade Clans. Anden also remains a favorite character, and I'm left with hope for his future after the terrifying events at the end of this book. Kaul Maik Wen's stone-cold (and stone eye) courage is amazing in this book. I do, however, continue to feel so conflicted about Hilo-jen, who continues to be one of the most complex anti-heroes I've read in a while. For every positive attribute he has (his complete acceptance of Anden's sexuality, his love of children, his love of his wife Wen, his ability to lead his men, like Eitan, to see hope when they need it) he has a downright fiendish counterpoint. (What happens with Mudt is a case in point.) Hilo is less reckless now, but every bit as entitled and self-justifying as he was in the first book, if not more so. (Just ask Enyi.) And then there is Ayt Madashi, as ruthless and formidable an opponent as one can envision, a woman willing to do whatever it takes to advance her goals, who fluidly plays both ends against the middle and when necessary will just put the middle in a totally different place. These characters become so real and alive to the reader, that any adversity they encounter is breathtaking and chilling, and any success breathtaking and joyous (until you stop and think about the fact that we are talking about mob success.) Fonda Lee is such a master storyteller that she even has you rooting for that jade thief Bero (talk about anti-heroes!) in the end. Amazing.

How will I wait for Jade Legacy? I guess I will just have to listen to the 44 hours of Jade City and Jade War, beautifully narrated by Andrew Kishino, all over again.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Review: Things You Save in a Fire

Things You Save in a Fire Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

So I've been sitting on this review for a few days after finishing this book, trying to frame my thoughts a bit. There are things I really enjoyed about Things You Save in a Fire but there are things that had me rather upset. I greatly enjoyed Center's last novel How to Walk Away and note that over the past decade she's made a career of writing novels about women on the brink of disaster, over the edge of disaster, recovering from disaster. She writes books that brim with hope and humor. In the present case, we follow Cassie Hanwell, a female fire fighter who has built a fortress around herself with her prowess as a firefighter, athlete, and all around genuine hero(ine). Cassie has, again and again, put her life on the line to save those in need. But so much of the strength she has built has been a reaction to two grievous life injuries she sustained when she was sixteen years old. And after an event that was supposed to be a celebration of her bravery turns into a major PTSD trigger she finds herself moving across the country to save her career and take care of a mother from whom she's been estranged for more than a decade. The triggering event, along with having to deal with her ailing mother, seems to unleash all kinds of emotions that Cassie doesn't want to deal with. And herein lies one of my problems with the structure of the trauma portion of this narrative. I'm going to discuss the issue below, under a spoiler tag.

I heartily enjoyed the firefighter portions of the book, which I know that Center put a huge amount of research into in order to have them ring with authenticity. And they do. Her Austin and Lillian stations were interesting in their huge contrasts and the technical aspects of firefighting were quite fascinating. The differing compositions of her crew members, and the varying degrees in which sexism is an issue in the career, were also interesting. And I enjoyed the character of Owen Callaghan, the rookie firefighter who comes from a long line of firefighters and who is, just like other male protagonists Center has written in the past, nursing his own guilt and pain. While one could say some aspects of Center's stories are formulaic within her own works, it's a formula that works because it mirrors real life- we all have our hurts, guilts, and traumas to overcome in order to connect with our fellow humans.

While I was less on board with this novel than her last, Center can write engagingly and I'm sure the novel is going to be a popular one.



Spoilers Below. No, Really. Spoilers

________________________________________________


CW: sexual assault, untreated PTSD

Cassie, as written, has a dissociative way of processing physical closeness to others. She tolerates it for work but as no ability to tolerate that closeness on a personal level. Unless... it's the cute Irish rookie in her new fire station. Mind you, as an assault survivor myself, I can get the complex feelings of attraction and fear that go with moving forward in life "after." But the way Cassie's character arc is written makes it seem like recovering from sexual assault is just about waiting long enough for the right guy to come along, which is... offensive. First, once you surmise these revelations about the character, you look back at the first chapter, in which she wonders if Hernandez is right about his suggestions that she needs to get laid, and think it's ridiculous that she would even contemplate such a thing! How!? The woman has never even been kissed, for gosh sakes! Thereafter, I found the passages with her dealing with Owen practicing on her, touching all over her, when she realizes her profound attraction to him, to be immensely frustrating to read. She's described as uneasy, but in a real world this might likely result in out and out panic. He hooks her up to an EKG and doesn't even notice anything stress related? Really? Sure, he eventually realizes that something is wrong many chapters later, but how fast is that fix as we careen toward the dramatic events at the end? As an assault survivor, her dissociative way of processing, which she self-recognizes as viewing his physical contact with her as just work-related, becomes imperiled once she steps over that work-related boundary into a "friendship." Because friendship involves trust and trust involves vulnerability and vulnerability is not something Cassie deals with well. While she asks Owen about therapy for his issues, at no point do we hear about her having therapy for her issues, nor do we have any indication that her father, distracted by his own pain of his wife's rejection, notices anything about his daughter's physical and emotional suffering, her being bullied at school, her withdrawing from any connections with peers. No adult notices. (I know this stuff really happens but the point is that it sharply deepens the trauma and that increases the difficulty in overcoming the trauma.) 

Frankly, the way this was handled had me even questioning the entire premise of her being a firefighter, sleeping in quarters with a bunch of guys, and wondering whether she would/could ever really sleep in that kind of vulnerable setting. (And yes, I know she believes that firefighters are the good guys. A PTSD brain doesn't so much care about that sort of belief.) In any case, I'm supposed to believe that this strong, stoic assault survivor just meets the right guy and works through her immense barriers to physical intimacy, gets married in short order, has babies, and lives happily ever after, boom!? Naaaaah, chica. No way. Not buying it. Why not have her had past therapy on her Austin Department's insurance? Why not have her female chief in Austin, who just saw her most talented firefighter derail her career insist she must see a therapist after Cassie implies why she did what she did to Heath Thompson? And though Captain Harris helps her get the new job in New England, why doesn't she express concern as to whether going off to a sexist all male department was the right thing for Cassie to do? Why doesn't that female chief ever touch base with her later, and make sure she's okay? The simple addition of a bargain with Captain Harris that she'd help her if she sought therapy would have made this whole thing more believable. I just fail to believe that a captain so proud of her junior officer would leave this unaddressed. There was more work to be done here. Most of all, leading anyone who hasn't been an assault victim to believe that trauma recovery is as simple as finding the right partner is a disservice to assault victims. 


I received a Digital Review Copy and paper copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came to this story thanks to Ruthanna Emrys, an author whose fine deconstruction and reformulation of Lovecraft in her Innsmouth Legacy series has underscored the struggle for hope in the marginalized. Emrys recently discussed hopepunk, a term coined by author Alexandra Rowland (A Conspiracy of Truths), on her Patreon, which you can find here. Rowland stated in 2017 that "The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk" (source) and Emrys, in referring to The Ones Who Walk Away from the Omelas, says Rowland has further stated "hopepunk is about the ones who walk away from Omelas and come back with lockpicks and axes." Emrys has links this idea to the Talmudic concept of "whoever saves a life saves the world" and by that same token, whoever destroys a life, such as that of the poor child, locked in a filth-overflowing closet in this story, has destroyed their world, whether they realize it yet or not. Emrys feels hopepunk is not idle hope but a call to action. And this story, written almost fifty years ago, feels almost prescient.

We live in times in which America leadership has told us that in order to be safe and happy, we must lock immigrant children in cages. No one knows how many children still remain in that "closet" because no one is releasing numbers. There's a direct connection to stories like The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and the philosophical and moral questions they pose. If ever there was a time to read this story, that time is now. I hope readers contemplate this powerful Le Guin statement and take to heart Ruthanna Emrys' idea of hopepunk being a call to moral action. There's a phrase in the Judaic tradition called tikkun olam- it means "repairing the world." The ones who walk away hopefully will come back with the tools to make the world right.

The edition of this story that I have reviewed here is a standalone story rereleased in 2016 with additional commentary by Le Guin. Her additional thoughts and the origins of this story make that rerelease well worth your time.



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