Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daughter of the Empire

Welcome to my new tradition: reviewing books off my usual beaten path if there's a fifth Thursday in a given month. These are things that I read years ago or have been meaning to read since high school, older stuff that does something different. Normally I like to stay within the past decade to up your odds of seeing it on the shelves next time you hit the bookstore, but it's definitely worth trying to hunt down some of the older stuff, in part because it's not so bogged down in contemporary trends. This week I'm reviewing Daughter of the Empire, a book I read for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen and studiously ignoring everyone else in my cabin at summer camp. There aren't really any spoilers here that aren't in the text on the back of the book, but I do occasionally go into more detail than that.

The quick and dirty:
Rating: 4 stars
Publication: May 1, 1988 from Spectra 
Premise: Mara of the Acoma is beginning a ceremony to take religious vows and renounce the outside world when a messenger arrives to tell her that her father and brother are dead, leaving her as the sole heir of her House. The most powerful House in the empire arranged their deaths, and unless she can navigate the tangled intrigues in the Great Game of the Council, she, along with her house's history and advisers, will be next. Though tradition is the cornerstone of her people's safety and honor, she must learn to bend it for good if she has any hope of survival.  
Warnings: Non-graphic sexual violence (pain, bruises, and minor hitting). This encounter isn't technically rape in context, but in some ways the dynamic is similar. 
Recommendation: While it's not the pinnacle of perfection that my younger self remembered it being, this one is a still a great read with a protagonist who gets pulled into things sideways and then earns every victory that she finds.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 4 stars
Length: On the long side (371 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: September 7, 2010 from Pyr
Premise: Sir Richard Francis Burton is on the verge of a debate about the source of the Nile when he learns that his opponent and former friend has shot himself. On the way back from an evening of mourning with friends, he's assaulted by a lightning-covered man on stilts who knows far too much about him and beats him senseless before jumping into the air and vanishing. The next day he's offered a position as an agent of the king, throwing him into investigations and derailing the life he'd been planning. Algernon Charles Swinburne, a young poet seeking to find life by facing death, joins him in investigating the changes that are rippling through time.
Warnings: many instances of swift molestation in the form of ripping clothes off and running, plans to rape and impregnate underage girls (these plans never reach fruition)
Recommendation: This one is brilliant fun to read; it's rare to see worldbuilding blend research and the imagination so well. This, to me, is what steampunk mysteries are supposed to be; absolutely give it a try if you're looking for something new and unusual.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3.5 stars
Length: Comfortably hearty (320 pages)
Publication: July 7, 2009 from Roc Books
Premise: Jane Yellowrock, a skinwalker and traveling vampire hunter, is called in to New Orleans to track down a rogue vampire. It's been killing tourists and threatening other vampires, which is bad for business, so the local vampire clans have called in outside help. Jane has to work with sane vampires as allies for the first time, hiding the secret of her powers while they all sniff at her blood. Intrigue isn't her normal scene, but she's thrust in the middle of it while trying to untangle what makes the rogue vampire's nature hit closer to home than she was expecting.
Warnings: Lots of blood and gore, about what you'd expect from a gritty vampire book; minor unpleasantness with Jane having raw arousal pushed on her from the inside as a form of revenge
Recommendation: Definitely give this one a try; the opening is a bit stereotypical, but there's some great worldbuilding and characters once you get a few chapters into it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Fallen Blade

Not to be confused with Broken Blade, the first thing I reviewed. By the legitimate chance of me picking books that look interesting, that we've hit parallel titles within six weeks. I'll make running note of this sort of thing to illustrate that I'm really not kidding on the plotting page; it's hard to keep track of the names of things in this genre.

The quick and dirty: 
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Running up to a tome (464 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: January 27, 2011 from Orbit Books
Premise: Venice in the early 1400s seethes with intrigue, centered on two powerful people vying for control of the city, and is threatened by a magical war in the shadows. The novel opens with Giulietta, a young Millioni princess being forced into marriage, running away and being rescued by the great cost to the Assassani he has spent so long training. Those assassins kept Venice safe, and with them dead, Atilo must search for replacements. He finds a potential but dangerous one in Tycho, a young man who moves faster than anyone alive but fears the sunlight. Venice's enemies are circling, ready to attack at the first sign of weakness, but their plots cannot match the ambition of those in the city itself.
Warnings: one scene of forced artificial impregnation, many threats of rape, gore, murder of children
Recommendation: If you have the same soft spot for books set in Venice that I do, or want to read a vampire novel that's very different from most (and never uses the word "vampire"), check this one out. Mass market prices would make me recommend it a bit more enthusiastically, but so far it's only out in trade paperback. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Storm Glass

The quick and dirty:
Rating: 3 stars
Length: Longer than it feels (488 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: April 28, 2009 from Mira Books
Premise: Opal Cowan has spent years struggling to learn basic magic, failing to do anything beyond her single trick of blowing magic into glass. She's suddenly pulled from her studies to help investigate the Stormdancer glass orbs, which are shattering and killing the magicians who try to use them. As she journeys across Sitia in search of answers, she learns that her powers are changing. To add even more distractions, Opal tries to balance her feelings for both Kade, a tempestuous and aloof Stormdancer magician, and Ulrick, a fellow glassmaker who understands the loneliness of having only one gift in a school full of people with many.
Warnings: past described torture, present mild torture, rape threats, odd and largely unexamined sexual consent issues
Recommendation: If you liked Maria V. Snyder's previous series or have a particular interest in glassmaking, this might be your cup of tea. It makes for good fast-moving fluff, though I'd recommend it as a library find or waiting for the eventual mass market release.