#MountTBR: Final Checkpoint

This is my final progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I aimed for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That meant reading two books every month, preferably at least one of those from my physical TBR shelf. All of them had to have been bought before 2017.

In December I completed the Mount Blanc challenge by reading 1 final owned TBR book!

Nine Goblins cover
Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher
147 pages / ebook

When a party of goblin warriors find themselves trapped behind enemy lines, it’ll take more than whining (and a bemused Elven veterinarian) to get them home again.

This was a fun fantasy novella. It took me a while to get used to the goblins and remember who was who, but in the end I was on board their adventures. There was almost a Discworld-esque City Watch vibe with them in places. The elf was also a refreshingly different elf character, and a very Kingfisher-style character at that, what with his gardening and animal caretaking. The main plot was surprisingly dark and poignant. All in all, a nice romp.

3 out of 5 stars

Final Thoughts

I did it! I reached Mount Blanc by reading 24 TBR books that I had already owned before the year 2017! I didn’t quite reach my ratio of half physical and half ebooks: I read 9 physical and 15 ebooks. So while I didn’t make a lot more room on my physical TBR shelf, nine is better than nothing.

Here are all the books I read for the challenge:
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes The Lost Child of Lychford Forest of Memory BorderlineQueers Destroy Fantasy! The Blue Sword The Grey King Heroine Complex   Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day cover Patternmaster coverNine Goblins

I hope all your 2017 reading challenges were successful, too! I’m not quite sure what challenges I plan to tackle in 2018, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something. Meanwhile, happy New Year!

October & November #MountTBR Progress

This is my sixth progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

In October I read a lot of my owned comics and books, but none that I had bought before 2017. In November I managed to read 4 owned TBR books, out of which 2 were physical books, so that made up for October.

The Fire's Stone cover
The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff
287 pages / ebook

This is a high fantasy book from 1990. The plot seems very basic: a trio consisting of a prince, a thief, and a wizard are sent to get back the precious Fire’s Stone that keeps the kingdom from being buried by a volcanic eruption. But the focus on characters made it feel a lot more unique.

We delve into the main characters and their weaknesses and especially their relationships with their ruler fathers. The prince wants his judging father’s acceptance, but drowns himself in parties, alcohol, and affairs because he has nothing to do – people don’t want the younger son mixing in politics. The thief is haunted by the memory of his cold, abusive father and the early love of his that the father killed, as well as the homophobia of his birth country. The wizard doesn’t recognize the father that has distanced himself after her mother’s death. She is also being pressured into getting married, because otherwise she can’t inherit the throne, while she would just want to focus on her magic studies and her kingdom. I loved the great bond between the three main characters in the book, and the fact that there’s a country where bisexuality is the norm. The attitudes toward fat people are bad, though, so a content warning for that.

4 out of 5 stars

The Sun King cover
The Sun King: Louis XIV at Versailles by Nancy Mitford
241 pages / hardcover

Finnish edition. This was a non-fiction book that I picked up from my library’s book swap shelf. The subject matter was interesting, but the focus turned out to be a bit different than I’d expected. I thought the focus would be more on the King and especially on Versailles, but it was more on the King’s mistresses and assorted political events. It was also clear which people the author especially liked. I wanted things to be followed through chronologically, but e.g. the effect of someone’s death might be stated in one chapter, and in the next one the person would still be alive, because of the focus of that chapter. I did learn some things, but not enough about Versailles.

2 out of 5 stars

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day cover
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
234 pages / paperback

The spinster governess Miss Pettigrew is accidentally hired by a young actress, Delysia LaFosse, who is looking for a maid. An unforgettable day ensues.

I had seen the movie adaptation a few years ago, but didn’t remember a lot of the twists and turns. Miss Pettigrew is a delight to follow, she’s a great character who decides, for just one day, to just go for it! She is thrown from one tricky situation and wild party to the next, and manages to be an absolute boss.

The attitudes in the book are outdated (sexism and racism), and I hated the Mr. Right, the supposedly “good” love interest of Delysia’s, mostly because of this.

4 out of 5 stars

Patternmaster cover
Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler
208 pages / ebook

The final book in the Patternmaster or Seed to Harvest series in inner chronological order. I’ve been slowly reading these books from a digital omnibus edition.  This one is set far in the future where telepathic Patternists and alien-mutated Clayarks fight over Earth, while regular humans are a minority who serve the Patternists. We follow Teray, a young Patternist who leaves school to become an apprentice before starting his own House, but instead finds himself being forced into the House and under the power of a strong Patternist.

Patternmaster and Mind of My Mind, the fourth and second books in the series, are among my favourites. They are also the ones that Butler wrote the earliest in publication order. I think I prefer her earlier works because they are “easier-flowing” and more character-based – all of the series focuses on power structures, the abuse of power, and a bunch of other, hard topics, but the ones that were written later were much grimmer. Wild Seed, the first one in inner chronological order, but a later book in her career, is clearly better written, but my reading experience was so much harder and more uncomfortable because one of the main characters was so unpleasant. Which he was meant to be, but still.

4 out of 5 stars / The whole series: 3 stars

Those were all the books from October and November that qualified for the challenge. I also read 9 owned books & comics that I bought this year, so they didn’t qualify. Onwards to the last month of the challenge! I am only one book away from finishing the Mount Blanc!

August & September #MountTBR Progress

This is my fifth progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

In August and September I managed to read 3 owned TBR books, out of which 1 was a physical book. So I would’ve preferred one more physical book, but I’m still on track. Here is what I thought of the books I read.

Mixed Magics by Diana Wynne Jones
138 pages / hardcover

A collection of four short stories set in the Chrestomanci universe: Warlock at the Wheel, Stealer of Souls, Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream, and The Sage of Theare. The short stories were weaker than the Chrestomanci novels, but hey, it’s still Diana Wynne Jones!

The Sage of Theare was probably my favourite, and I would give that one about 3 stars. I loved how the Chrestomanci turned up with the flu! My least favourite story was Warlock at the Wheel. I found it quite uninteresting, and btw, shouldn’t that dog have been poisoned by that chocolate cake it ate?

2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani
152 pages / ebook

A lovely surprise! I got this indie YA fantasy book when it was available for free on Amazon. I was hesitant when reading the first two chapters, because I felt that some elements were introduced a bit clunkily. But the more I read, the more I found myself enjoying the story.

The main character, Hitomi, has a great moral compass. I enjoyed her strong sense of justice and doing what’s right at the expense of herself. Also, the book has both mages and vampires, two things that I love reading about! I want to know what is going to happen to Hitomi next, so I will continue on with this series.

3 out of 5 stars

Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed
110 pages / ebook

A collection of short stories written by Saladin Ahmed, the author of Throne of the Crescent Moon. The ebook is available for free.

Unfortunately no story in the collection was a huge hit with me, and I have forgotten most of them already. All of the stories were OK: interesting when I was reading them, but nothing spectacular. My favourites were the ones set in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

3 out of 5 stars

Those were all the books from August and September that qualified for the challenge. I also read a couple of my own comics that I bought in 2017 (so they don’t qualify), and those were The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 5 by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie,Tokyo Tarareba Girls Vol.1 by Akiko Higashimura, and Water Baby by Sophie Campbell. I hope your reading is going well, and I will catch you with my next progress post!

June & July #MountTBR Progress

This is my fourth progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

In June and July I managed to read 2 owned TBR books, and both were physical books! I read so many more owned books, especially in July, but since all of those had been bought in 2017, they sadly did not count for this challenge. It was 3 ebooks and 4 comics. Bummer! But let’s talk about the challenge books.

The Grey King
The Grey King by Susan Cooper
205 pages / an omnibus paperback

The fourth book in The Dark is Rising series sees Will travel to Wales. I read the Finnish edition from a two book omnibus that contains the fourth and fifth books. I pretty consistently give the books in this series three stars, and this one is no exception. I’ve never been a huge fan of Arthurian legends. I liked the latter half of The Grey King a lot better than the first half, though! It actually gripped me. Now I only have the fifth book left to go in this series.

3 out of 5 stars

Heroine Complex
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
378 pages / paperback

A fun superhero urban fantasy novel. Evie Tanaka is her superhero bestie’s assistant, but something forces her to take the more heroic role for a change. Heroine Complex is in the genre of usually paranormal urban fantasy where the kick-ass heroine clad in leather battles baddies and meets a hot guy – except in this one it’s the protagonist’s bestie who is the leather-clad, kick-ass one. There are sex scenes, so if that’s not your thing…

This was an enjoyable, fun romp with a message about respecting your friends, but not a new favourite. Look at that cover, though!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Those were all the books from June and July that qualified for the challenge. The bought-in-2017 ebooks that I read were The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, Summer in Orcus, and The Book of Phoenix, and the comics were The Girl From the Other Side Vol.1, Giant Days Vol.1, Goldie Vance Vol.1, and Night’s Dominion Vol.1. Check them out if you are interested (the links take you to Goodreads). I especially recommend The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor and The Girl from the Other Side Vol.1 by Nagabe. Happy reading!

April & May #MountTBR Progress

This is my third progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

In April and May I managed to read 3 owned TBR books, out of which 2 were physical books! So I was one book behind from my goal of two per month. But I’m still ahead in my challenge (thanks to January). I bought a lot of books during this time: five physical books and four ebooks! But here is what I finished.

The Martian cover
The Martian by Andy Weir
369 pages / paperback

Mark Watney is stuck on Mars. Despite a lot (A LOT) of technobabble and going into details, this managed to be a fun read! I didn’t even mind the technobabble, many times I even (gasp) found it interesting. The book was light in tone, which made it easy to read despite all the science thrown at you.

It did take me a month to read this book (I went on vacation in the middle of it), but my slow reading pace and long pauses didn’t seem to take anything away from the experience: the whole structure of it being Mark’s diary helped with that. I later watched the movie, and the book was a lot better.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps cover
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
224 pages / ebook

A novella that mixes science fiction with fantasy. The main character, Demane, is a “demigod”, descended from beings from the sky, and is also a doctor who knows a lot about science. The story itself is more of a fantasy journey, a merchant caravan making its way through the Wildeeps. It took me a while to get into the writing style, but when I did, I really enjoyed it. Very interesting world and main character.

4 out of 5 stars

Fool's Fate cover
Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb
805 pages / paperback

The final book in the Tawny Man trilogy, for a while Fool’s Fate seemed to be a culmination of the story of Fitz and the Fool – before Robin Hobb went on to continue their story years later.This was a re-read for me, but I’m still counting it for the challenge. It’s been ages since I first read this, and I needed a reread to remind myself of what exactly happened so that I can continue on with the series.

I’ve been in love with Robin Hobb’s world for years and years, and The Fool is my favourite character in anything, ever. I loved my reread as much I loved my first read. I laughed, I cried, I felt content at the end. This book definitely needs the background of reading all of Hobb’s previous trilogies first for the reader to get the full story. Love it.

5 out of 5 stars

Those were all the books from April and May that qualified for the challenge. I also read two other books that I owned but that did not qualify, since I had bought them this year. I really liked them both and would highly recommend them: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, a science fiction/horror book from the fifties, and Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand, a horror novella that was published in 2015. Check them out if you are interested, and meanwhile, I hope your reading is going well!

February & March #MountTBR Progress

This is my second progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

February wasn’t as great a success as January – I managed to read 4 owned TBR books, out of which 1 was a physical book (sadly only a comic trade). I acquired 2 books during the month. In March I went on vacation and only read 1 ebook from my owned books, and no physical books. I did start The Martian by Andy Weir, but didn’t get to finish it before my vacation. I also bought three ebooks that were on sale in March! ;_; I need to step up reading my physical books in April! Here is what I finished in the past two months.

Broom with a View
Broom with a View by Gayla Twist & Ted Naifeh
216 pages / ebook

This is a fantasy retelling of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, with witches and vampires. It’s entertaining and light, but nothing that memorable. I think the characters and their relationships relied on the reader knowing them from the original novel to make them feel fully fleshed-out. The biggest draw was in seeing what changes the writers made to the story.

2.5 out of 5 stars

The Wicked + The Divine 4
The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 4 by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
144 pages / physical / comic trade

The comic series about reincarnated gods continues in a very action-packed volume! This is definitely the “action scene” of the series so far. Jamie McKelvie’s and Matt Wilson’s art continues to be divine.

I like that we finally got some answers, and that things weren’t as hopeless as they seemed to be at the end of Volume 2. With that said, although we did get some answers, the plot wasn’t the best in the series, since this volume was pretty much an action scene after action scene. Which can be fun sometimes!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Clay's Ark
Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler
224 pages / ebook

A father and his two daughters are kidnapped to a colony with people infected by an alien disease, and told that they must now live there for the rest of their lives. This is the third book in the Patternmaster series, but its connection to the previous books is very loose, almost nonexistent, apart from a brief mention. I can only imagine that the first three books are more closely tied together in the fourth and final book.

This was a very difficult book, dealing with hard and harsh topics like Butler often does, including but not limited to kidnapping, rape, and incest. It also continues the series’ theme of free will. But the earlier books handled everything better: I could see no point to all the graphic sexual assault and violence in this one. The plot itself was too weak to carry the book, even such a short one as this is. I liked the previous books and hope that the final one gives a reason for this book to exist.

2 out of 5 stars

Of Sorrow and Such
Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter
160 pages / ebook

This novella tells of Mistress Gideon, the local witch of a small town called Edda’s Meadow, who wants to live a quiet life. She gets tangled up with a couple of shapeshifters, one of whom is reckless to the point of foolishness. And the trouble begins.

First off, what a great main character! I loved experiencing the story from Patience Gideon’s point of view and learning about her history. She has a lot of common sense, but is definitely no goody-two-shoes. There are dark things in her past. I liked how the story focused on the lives of women and the relationships between them, as well as talking about how they often have to be under the power of men in order to survive.

4 out of 5 stars

The Man with Two Left Feet by P.G. Wodehouse
168 pages / ebook

This is a short story collection featuring some of Wodehouse’s early works. I’ve been chipping away at it for a while now, but did finish over 50% of it in 2017.

Out of the stories, I loved At Geisenheimer’s, but hated Black for Luck. The early Bertie story, Extricating Young Gussie, is a fun story and also an interesting curiosity for Jeeves & Wooster fans: it’s the first Bertie story (no mention of his last name), although Jeeves doesn’t yet get any characterization. The other stories are just OK.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Those were all the books from February and March that qualified for the challenge. I also read one other owned ebook (The Convergence of Fairy Tales by Octavia Cade), but since I had bought it in 2017, it didn’t qualify. Then I read a bunch of library books, like always.

Onwards to April!

January #MountTBR Progress

This is my first progress post for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge. I’m aiming for the Mount Blanc level: reading 24 of my owned TBR books during 2017. That means reading two books every month, and I would prefer at least one of them to be from my physical TBR shelf. All of them have to be bought before 2017.

In January I managed to read 6 owned TBR books, out of which 1 was a physical book! I acquired 3 books during the month, so I’m still ahead. Go, me!! Here is what I finished.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
154 pages / ebook

I had started this book last year, but since I read the last 50% in 2017, it still qualifies. This is a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories, and while I did find it to be a weaker volume than the previous one, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I enjoyed being introduced to Mycroft, and of course, The Final Problem is a very good and dramatic story.

3 out of 5 stars

The Lost Child of Lychford
The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell
144 pages / ebook

The second novella in the Lychford series, this continues the story of three witches in the small town of Lychford. An apparition of a small boy appears in Lizzie’s church, and the witches have to figure out what this means. Is it a ghost? A vision of the past or an omen of the future?

This one was a lot creepier than the first novella, The Witches of Lychford. I enjoyed the creepiness, but I thought that the plot was a bit more confusing and less coherently written than the first one. There was also less Judith than I would’ve liked.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Forest of Memory
Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal
92 pages / ebook

In a future where everyone stores their memories as video files, antique dealer Katya is kidnapped and goes off the grid. Weird stuff happens, but since she is not recording, there is no proof. Katya can’t even trust her own memories, since she can’t visit them in vivid detail on video like she’s used to.

This is a high concept science fiction novella about memory that never really clicked with me. I really enjoyed the future memory tech, but didn’t connect with the story.

3 out of 5 stars

Borderline by Mishell Baker
400 pages / ebook

A fast-paced and highly readable urban fantasy book with fey! Millie has borderline personality disorder and is paraplegic after a suicide attempt that got her kicked out of film school. She gets recruited to an organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland.

The book is Own Voices as far as the Borderline personality disorder goes, and I felt like this was well handled in the book. Millie tends to lash out at people, while being incredibly vulnerable herself, and I liked that it makes her a complex, not-perfect character. Also I love unpredictable fey in books, so…. that’s a pretty big plus.

4 out of 5 stars

Queers Destroy Fantasy!
Queers Destroy Fantasy! Anthology
272 pages / ebook

An anthology of fantasy short stories and non-fiction entirely written and edited by queer creators. This one I’d also started reading in 2016, but had 50% left for 2017.

Like most anthologies, some stories I enjoyed more and some less, but the quality was pretty high. My favourite original short story was Catherynne M. Valente’s The Lily and the Horn, which was about the preparations for an irregular, poisonous feast, written in gorgeous prose. My fave reprint was Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Sea Troll’s Daughter, a story about a hero killing a troll that didn’t follow the expected, familiar, well-worn paths of revenge stories.

4 out of 5 stars

The Blue Sword
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
249 pages / paperback

Harry Crewe gets kidnapped by the Hillfolk King for reasons mysterious even to the King himself. She learns the ways of the Hillfolk, as well as about her own magic and heritage.

I probably would’ve inhaled this book as a kid, but found it very hard to get into as an adult. I have never read anything from McKinley before, and found her writing style pretty dry and an effort to read. It took about a 100 pages of a little more than 200 page book for things to start happening and for me to become a little interested. There was also some pretty bad POV skipping in between paragraphs, which always confuses me. This book might need some nostalgia behind it.

2 out of 5 stars

Those were all the books from January that qualified for the challenge. I also read two novels and two comic trades from the library, so all in all I had a pretty good reading month. How are your 2017 challenges going? Are you taking part in the Mount TBR Challenge as well? Let me know!

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
By: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science Fiction
First published in 2014

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The patched-up ship that’s seen better days offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

Before I started reading this book, I knew so many people who absolutely loved it. Sadly I have to say that while I liked it, I didn’t fall in love. This is going to be a long review, so bear with me while I try to gather all my thoughts.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is pretty much about what the title says it is. It’s a character-focused book about a group of wormhole builders who get a big gig. They have to fly their tunneling ship a long way to a politically unstable planet, in order to punch a wormhole back to the more lively parts where they traveled from, basically creating a highway for other ships to use.

What I loved about the book was definitely the worldbuilding. Chambers has done a huge and thorough job with creating all the different alien races, their planets, and customs. It felt almost like when playing Mass Effect – and by that I don’t mean that the worlds are similar, but that all the aliens and their customs are clearly fleshed out and very varied (even more than in ME, I’d say). The world felt real, and it felt big, and all the aliens were clearly distinguishable from each other.

Instead of a big plot, this book has a lot different stories, or snapshots of the characters’ life. I’ve often said that I prefer characters over plot, and since I knew that this book was character-focused, I thought it would be exactly my cup of tea. Sadly, there were things that just didn’t quite work for me. The stories felt too compartmentalized, almost episodic. It felt like going through a list of characters: Now you get a story, and now you get a story, and now it’s your turn!

Funnily enough, I almost craved for more character-focused scenes, or at least differently focused scenes. I wanted more scenes (there were some) where many members of the crew would be gathered together, talking to each other while doing some everyday spaceship stuff, instead of spending time one-on-one with one character explaining their story or the customs of their species to another one, the dialogue acting as a not-that-organically embedded infodump. For example in the scene where Sissix is explaining about Aandrix family customs to Rosemary, some of that information could be given in the sort of Wikipedia-like entries that were used elsewhere in the book, giving Sissix the chance to speak about more personal matters.

The book focused a lot on the characters’ inner life, and sometimes the writing was a bit too heavy-handed. By that I mean that the characters spoke out their feelings to the point that it felt like the book was telling us what they felt, instead of showing us. The worst offender was the bolt-sorting scene, where Jenks makes a long speech about his feelings, even though the scene spoke for itself in my opinion. It spelled those emotions out loud by actions, without the speech being at all necessary.

Now this review might seem a bit harsh, but I actually liked reading the book for the most part! I really liked especially Dr. Chef and Sissix (while Kizzy mostly just got on my nerves). I loved the world and learning about all the different alien races. I just had too many little gripes about the book for me to give it more than three stars.

This was Becky Chambers’ debut novel, and I trust that she will iron out the more clunky parts as time goes by. She has what it takes, evident in the creation of this amazing world, and it is this huge potential in the world that leaves me craving to read her second novel, which is set in the same universe.

3 out of 5 stars

A Stranger in Olondria Review (2015 SFF Reading Challenge 6/10)

A Stranger in Olondria
A Stranger in Olondria

By: Sofia Samatar
First published in 2012
Book 6/10 of my 2015 SFF Reading Challenge

Jevick, the pepper merchant’s son, has been raised on stories of Olondria, a distant land where books are as common as they are rare in his home—but which his mother calls the Ghost Country. When his father dies and Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, Jevick’s life is as close to perfect as he can imagine. Just as he revels in Olondria’s Rabelaisian Feast of Birds, he is pulled drastically off course and becomes haunted by the ghost of an illiterate young girl.

A Stranger in Olondria is a beautifully written book that manages to evoke the feeling of traveling abroad and of suddenly seeing something gorgeous when you turn a corner. It also has a deep love for books, stories, and the wonder of literacy. I’m not surprised it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2014 – the prose is so beautiful that it’s difficult to believe this is Samatar’s debut novel.

The main character, Jevick of Tyom, has lived all his life on his father’s pepper farm. His Olondrian tutor taught him to read and write, since there is no written language in his mother tongue, and Jevick grew up reading about the wonders of Olondria. After his father’s death he finally has the chance to visit the city of Bain on the yearly spice spelling trip.

Jevick’s reactions to visiting Olondria and seeing the beautiful city of Bain reminded me of my visit to Rome, or seeing the Place Masséna in Nice. That wonder of turning a corner and being presented with a beautiful sight that takes your breath away was captured perfectly. Jevick also visits more barren countrysides, which were also described well, conveying the feel of large space and long stretches of land and stars spreading around you.

In addition to the descriptions and the awe of the main character when he travels, the world of the book is built by stories. A lot of the characters tell stories: either their life stories, or a myth of their people. This abundance of stories makes the world seem old and deep, like there is so much history behind it, more stories than this book will be able to tell.

This book is best read in long doses, because it always takes a little bit of time to sink into the writing style, the atmosphere and the long descriptions. I was planning to give the book five stars, but I fell out of the enchantment right at the very end. I assume this was because of the flu I had, which hurt the attention span needed to fully enjoy the story and sink into the writing style.

The plot itself was very unexpected, not going where I was thinking it would go, at all. To be fair, I hadn’t read the back cover description. The plot, for me, was the least important aspect of the book. I was drawn in by the weight of history and by the descriptions. If you are a plot-centered reader, I’d be interested in your reactions to the book.

4 out of 5 stars

Swordspoint Review (2015 SFF Reading Challenge 5/10)


(The World of Riverside #1)
By: Ellen Kushner
First published in 1987
Book 5/10 of my 2015 SFF Reading Challenge

This classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit.

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless – until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe.

Swordspoint was exactly my cup of tea: interesting, complex characters, with a lot of plotting nobles! It had political intrigue and swordfights, as well as a focus on character relationships.

Swordspoint is a fantasy of manners book, or as it says in the beginning, a melodrama of manners. It’s focused on the character relationships, the customs, and the classes of the people inside this one unnamed city. There’s the upper city, called the Hill, where the nobles live, and the other side, Riverside, where the pickpockets, swordsmen, and people who don’t fit in with the society live.

The main character, Richard St. Vier,  is a swordsman. In this city the nobles solve their quarrels with hired swordsmen: the insulted party will hire a swordsman to challenge the other noble, who in turn will have his own swordsman take up the challenge in his stead. Richard is the best swordsman in Riverside, and the plot focuses on him, his boyfriend, Alec, and a group of nobles that plot against each other in the upper city.

I really liked the characters in this book, although they might not be that likable in general terms. They are very complex characters and they have their own morals. They are not clear-cut heroes and villains; instead all of them are flawed in their own way.

My favourite character in the book was Richard’s boyfriend Alec, who is a very mysterious character. He’s not from Riverside originally, and no one really knows where he comes from. He dresses like a scholar from the University, but he talks like someone who is from an upper class. He has dark bouts where he turns suicidal, or at least very self-loathing, and he likes to stir up trouble. He goes around insulting people, even though he doesn’t know how to defend himself. Instead he incites quarrells and watches Richard fight them on his behalf, and he sort of gets off on that. All the time in the book I was wondering what his deal is.

Another thing that I liked about this book is that no one commented on Richard’s and Alec’s relationship. While there are gay characters in other fantasy books, they are often ostracized, and the same prejudices that are in our world are portrayed in the fantasy world. It was refreshing to see something different in this book, and I would like to read more fantasy like this. There are women from Richard’s past mentioned in the book as well, and the nobles in the upper city seem to also have their love affairs with both sexes. I’ve heard later that Kushner has said that all her characters in this world are bisexual. Like I said, it was very refreshing.

The majority of the book consists of the nobles’ schemes, which I found quite interesting to follow, even though they might not have been that complex. There was especially this one noble who was not the sharpest pencil in the box, and he sort of fumbled along with his plans. I knew nothing good could come out of them, but it was enjoyable to follow.

My reading experience was only bothered by some point of view changes. In one paragraph one character might be thinking something, and then the very next paragraph might be from another character’s point of view. At times I was confused since I’d missed that the POV character had changed in between. I learned to watch out for it, even though it mixed me up sometimes later on in the book as well. So the narrator is omniscient and tells all of the characters’ thoughts at one go, which was sometimes hard for me to follow.

I would highly recommend this book if you are interested in plotting nobles and characters with grey morals, as well as fantasy taking place in quite a small sphere, since the book takes place all in one city, with no travelling or quests or other epic fantasy staples. I really recommend Swordspoint and I’ll be reading more of Ellen Kushner’s work.

4.5 out of 5 stars