Archive | April 2014


palimpsest A palimpsest is a manuscript page that has had the original text scraped off so it can be used again. Palimpsest by Cathrynne M. Valente is a gorgeous, sumptuous fantasy; reading it is like taking a luxurious, candle lit bubble bath.

Palimpsest is a fantasy city populated with weird and wonderful creatures that is entered through having sex with someone who’s been there. Those that have can be identified by the tattoos that appear on them after the first visit.

Visitors to the city come as a quartet. In order to stay permanently in the city the quartet has to find each other in the real world. The story of Palimpsest follows a quartet and the effect that going to Palimpsest has on them and their lives.

It is beautiful. And in the way of the truly fascinating it is both beautiful and horrifying. The story of how Palimpsest came to be is gradually revealed. Anyone who comes to Palimpsest wants to get back at all costs but they don’t know what was done to the people who have always lived there. They don’t know the horrors they’ve endured.

The language and style is ornate in the tradition of AS Byatt and Angela Carter. It’s indulgent like fancy chocolates and fine wine. I enjoyed this a great deal.


sulaI’m steadily working my way through Toni Morrison’s books. I’ve every intention of reading them all.

Sula is about a part of a small town in the US in the interwar period. It’s not so much a story as a series of interconnected character illustrations that Morrison uses to illuminate some really big social issues.

Shadrack is a young man injured in the First World War. He comes back to Bottom shell-shocked and traumatised and there’s no care or support for him. Helen Wright is a straight-laced conservative woman who is contrasted with earthy, sexually free Hannah. Their daughters, Nel and Sula, become friends. They have an intense and deep friendship in the way that girls do. There is a shocking incident involving a small boy in the village that is witnessed by Shadrack. Nel and Sula grow up together. Nel marries a local boy; a man angry at the unjust situation that gives white immigrants jobs and leaves local black men out of work. Sula leaves for the big city on Nel’s wedding day.

Nel has three children and what is a relatively successful marriage for the time and place. Plenty of men leave the women on their own to raise the children. There’s no work, so there’s no pride. They turn to drink and sit outside the pool hall all day. But Nel’s husband stays. Ten years later, Sula returns. She disrupts the whole of Bottom, including Nel’s marriage. Sula lives for herself, she doesn’t sacrifice herself the way a woman is supposed to. She acts like a man and is punished for it.

Sula is beautifully written and the time period and place is brought vividly to life. Morrison touches on some very serious subjects in a very light way. In a few words, the essence of a person is captured. It’s a literary novel so there’s not much story or plot. It’s about bringing to life a particular time and place that could easily be forgotten. It’s also about how hard it is for a woman to self-actualise.

The final paragraph is the perfect end to the book and is heartbreaking. I really enjoyed the book.

The Republic of Thieves

republic thieves_The Republic of Thieves is the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards cycle. To say I have been eagerly awaiting this book is quite the understatement. The Lies of Locke Lamora was one of the books that got me back into reading fantasy. I read almost entirely fantasy and science fiction when I was a teenager but I got turned off by a lack of originality and too much formula. Then when I turned thirty and started writing seriously I realised that what I wanted to write was fantasy and I wasn’t reading anything in that genre any more. So, I looked for something new and I discovered Scott Lynch, G.R.R Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Something new was afoot and I loved it.

In The Republic of Thieves, Locke Lamora is dying from being poisoned at the end of the last book. Jean Tannen is trying to find a cure and is at the end of his tether. At the very last moment, a bondsmage appears and offers them a deal. She will save Locke if he and Jean rig an election for her. The catch? Their opponent will be Sabetha, formerly a member of the Gentlemen Bastards and Locke’s lost love.

Interweaved with the present day caper is a story from when Locke, Jean and Sabetha were children together. Their mentor sends them off to work a long con all by themselves in a strange town and the Gentlemen Bastards form as a proper gang for the first time. It reveals the history between Locke and Sabetha and their painful vulnerability is beautifully rendered.

Throughout, a bigger picture is emerging. The Gentlemen Bastards are caught up in someone else’s game and we begin to see how.

The two stories are equally balanced. They are both gripping and entertaining, full of twists and turns, and I was equally interested in the outcome of both. I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Couldn’t wait to pick it up again. The characters are vividly realised. Sabetha is wonderful. In the two previous books, she was a mysterious, mythical presence. In The Republic of Thieves she has the chance to come alive and she takes centre stage. Lynch writes women really well, in that he writes them as human beings first and then also shows an understanding of the experience of the world that only women will have. The dialogue is great and the way Lynch reveals character and story through dialogue and action is brilliant. This is a masterclass in showing, not telling. If you like fantasy and haven’t read these books, then you must. They are so good.


Kushiel’s Dart

I was reading articles about worldbuilding on Fantasy Faction and one of them mentioned Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. It was an example of how changing something in your fantasy world has ramifications that ripple through the whole society. In this case, a religion that sees sex as a sacred act, as a way to worship, and commune with your god.

0949_KushielsDart_D Kushiel’s Dart is the story of Phedre told in first person memoir-style. It’s not my favourite style but for at least the first half of the book it is done very well. Phedre is telling the story of her childhood; how she was born into the service of god and how she learned what she was. She is an anguisette, a woman who finds her sexual satisfaction in experiencing pain. This is something in great demand as it is something beyond the ordinary sexual submissive.

But rather than be dedicated to a house of service, Phedre is bought by a court noble, Delauney, and trained by him to be a spy. He knows what she is but does not allow her to lose her virginity until she is eighteen, much later than it would have been in a house.

Delauney is killed and Phedre finds herself thrust into the contest for the throne of Terre d’Ange. She is betrayed, sold into slavery in a barbarian country, discovers a treacherous plot, escapes, and returns to the Queen. She becomes the Queen’s emissary and then is central to forming the alliance that saves the Queen and foils the plot to overthrow her.

For the first half of the book the language is rich and extravagant and suits the story very well. It’s engaging. Phedre is a little annoying; she’s arrogant and self-satisfied. But I’m happy to be interested in unlikeable characters. Once the story gets past Phedre’s childhood and her training with Delauney, I found I was enjoying it much less. The language and style wasn’t consistent throughout the book. About halfway through the language became more plain and I felt the book lost something.

Mostly, the reason I was frustrated was that there was a lack of conflict. Everything comes a little too easily to Phedre. I didn’t find the psychology of the characters believable and felt that the courtly intrigue was shallow. There was no real depth, no real danger. And then, I was a little disappointed in the depiction of Phedre as an anguisette. It was built up extremely well in the first half of the book. I couldn’t wait to get to the good stuff. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver.

I also didn’t think it really stood up as the example of worldbuilding it was supposed to be, but that’s hardly Carey’s fault. It’s more of an alternate history than a fantasy. I didn’t actually finish it. According to my kindle I got 95% of the way through but I couldn’t bring myself to read the last few pages.