Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

Daughter of Hounds by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Roc Trade; paperback / softback edition (January 2, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0451461254

 Daughter of Hounds has the dark gritty feel of the popular Urban Fantasy genre, but most scenes take place in small quiet towns, dank cemeteries, and desert wastes. Set mostly in the New England area, Daughter of Hounds is a unique and paradoxical work, with bloody scenes of mayhem and quotes from The Chronicles of Narnia. An orphan woman simply named Soldier and a young girl with stark yellow eyes named Emmie Silvey are somehow tied inextricably together in this story. Soldier is a hit-woman for the mysterious beings known collectively as the Hounds of Cain, ghouls, or ghuls. Canine-like beings from another world, their savage features (and behavior) deny them access to the world of humans; they make their dens below cemeteries and abandoned houses.

Over the centuries, they’ve resorted to stealing away the babies and young children of the people who live above ground, in order to raise them as “changelings” or Children of the Cuckoo, human servants to carry out their business in the sun. The Hounds teach them loyalty, fear, and obedience, as well as contempt for other humans and a taste for meat of any kind.

Any kind at all.

Soldier is one such Child of the Cuckoo. Stolen as a baby, she has no recollection of her life before the Hounds, and is solely and wholly dedicated to them, even as they repeatedly put her life in danger and she sinks into the despair of alcoholism. Soldier is not a traditionally likable character. Her attitude is off the charts and her mouth is in the gutter. She is a foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails kind of woman, who prefers to shoot first, shoot some more, and forget about asking the corpse any questions later. But she does get things done, although usually in the messiest way possible.

She’s rude and vicious to her changeling partners, Saben White and Odd Willie Lothrop, and has no compunctions about shooting down innocent bystanders if they happen to catch a glimpse of something they shouldn’t. Her mentor, the Bailiff, is the only one that can control her, but she’s not so sure the Bailiff is trustworthy anymore, if he ever was. She also has the ability to rewind time, a trick that has saved her life more than once. But there are strange gaps in her memory, and when a job goes horribly wrong, she starts to get the feeling someone is trying to kill her and hide a big secret at the same time.

The confusion Kiernan writes for her is palpable, and half the time it felt as though I had as little idea of what was going on as Soldier did. Every friend is an enemy, and people who should be her enemies turn around to lend a hand at her most desperate moments, causing even more distress. Being a woman neither spares nor impairs her during dangerous moments, and she comes across as strictly asexual, a change from the standard Urban Fantasy shtick. As she tries to complete her assignment, reign in her rogue partner Saben, and figure who and why someone is trying to kill her, not to mention what Emmie Silvey has to do with the Hounds and her, I couldn’t help but pull for Soldier, even though I may disagree some of her methods. She was raised by alien, man-eating ghouls, after all.

Emmie Silvey is eight years old, and the color of her eyes isn’t the only strange thing about her. She’s a precocious and intelligent child, with a very literal mind and a general uncanny ability to make everyone around her uncomfortable, either with her yellow eyes or her blunt questions and answers. Emmie’s wish is for her eyes to be green, her dad Deacon to be sober, and her stepmother Sadie to come live at home with them again. When she meets a strange woman who tells her to beware of horses, Emmie brushes off the encounter. Afterwards, a girl named Pearl starts visiting Emmie in her dreams, and soon reveals secrets about Emmie’s past that shatter every foundation of her life.

The Hounds of Cain want something from Emmie, and they’ll do anything to get it. She is forced to flee in search of Soldier, with the help of Pearl and a woman trapped in a dream of the desert. Emmie doesn’t enjoy the magic she encounters, and some of the scenes she’s forced to see would scar a war veteran, let alone a child. But she powers through, and even amidst all the chaos, manages to find answers to her million-and-one questions about who she is and why everyone is so interested in her.

An eight year old character can be hard to write, but Kiernan manages to cover any defaults with the pre-requisite “precocious” label. If Emmie sounds old beyond her years in some scenes, well, she’s a special kid. There are times, however, when it’s obvious that Kiernan can portray a typical child just fine, as Emmie often comes off as whiney and hardheaded, usually at the most inappropriate times in the story. When she and Soldier finally meet, it’s like oil and water, or perhaps gas and a match. Emmie is an interesting character, and one I’d like to see again in future books. She’s also a bibliophile, frequently quoting lines from children’s and young adult books.

Most of the main characters and several minor ones are women, so this book easily passes the Bechdel Test, with conversations and encounters touching on every aspect of the story. The violence is graphic in some places, but not over-used, and there are implied rape scenes, but nothing explicit, and not exclusive to the female characters. Pearl is referred to as brown, and there’s a brief conversation where she mentions that her mother was a Native American princess. Another character is black, but the color is from an incident in her past, not by birth. Otherwise, the cast seems fairly whitewashed. There are several derogatory references to LGBT characters in the book, but it’s par for the course as far as the language the characters use. A main character likes boys, but it’s more about possible pedophilia then being gay. Not the most diverse, but I have to give props to the bad-assery of all the women involved.

The main problem I had with the book was the ending, which I obviously won’t give away, but after sleeping on it, I see that Kiernan faithfully sticks to her characters’ natures and personalities, even when it would have been easy to write a happy ending. I don’t necessarily agree with it or have to like it, but it feels right for the story. I would definitely recommend this book, although I hope for more diversity and a smidgen less profanity in future releases. There are apparently two previous books in the series, Low Red Moon and Threshold, but reading them wasn’t necessary to understand Daughter of the Hounds, which was written to be a stand-alone.

If you’re looking for Dark Fantasy or Urban Fantasy without the romance, Daughter of Hounds delivers. Strong, dangerous female characters, smart, serious kids, and an ambiguous but thought-provoking ending that will make you wish for more books by Caitlin R. Kiernan.
 

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

*******************************************************************************************
Check out Caitlin R. Kiernan’s website or follow her on Twitter @auntbeast

Shop Indie Bookstores

Read Full Post »

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW; Original edition (March 2, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0756405960

Returning to the world created in her debut novel, Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire absolutely delivers on the promises hinted at in her first publication. We come back to Toby Daye, the changeling woman and private investigator, as she’s working as a knight for Sylvester Torquill, Duke of Shadowed Hills. The Summerlands, the magical realm belonging to the fae, are divided up into different Counties, each one ruled by a Duke or Duchess, who then answer to the local court ruler, in this case a Queen. The Counties correspond to different areas in the mortal world; the County of Tamed Lightning, where the main story takes places, corresponds to the city of Fremont, California.

Sylvester has asked Toby to check on his niece January Torquill, the Duchess of Tamed Lightning. She has failed to check in for over three weeks, and Sylvester has become concerned that something sinister is happening in her County. Toby heads out with Quentin as her assistant, a young fae who was introduced in the previous book. The situation they find at ALH Computing, the headquarters of January and her team of technological fae, is much worse than anyone could have expected. What started as a dream of bridging new technology and the Realm of Faerie has turned dark, ugly, and deadly. It’s up to Toby, with the help of Quentin, Tybalt the King of Cats, and Connor the Selkie, to stop the deaths and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Toby is much more together in A Local Habitation. She’s sharp, quick, and logical, and goes about solving this series of magical crimes like any good P.I. Investigation is the key here, and Toby has got it down. Her character is much more centered, which makes sense in the storyline because she’s had more time to recover from her fourteen year imprisonment as a fish. She’s a woman who has finally figured out her purpose and she doesn’t hesitate to pursue the facts of a case, whether she’s meticulously searching through mounds of paperwork or using her fae abilities to try and read the blood of those who’ve been killed. Her decisions make sense, and the progression of events is well-thought out without being obvious. The mystery stays indistinct up until the very end, as a good mystery should.

January herself is a little flat. There’s so little time to get a feel for her character during the events of the book, I think more could have been done with her. More interaction between the two main women would have been nice to read. Gordan, one of the fae that works for January, has much more background explained than her boss, and is at times really funny with her biting, abrasive attitude. Quentin and Tybalt are much more developed, but poor Connor is still mostly a pretty face set to tempt Toby into indiscretion. The cast overall is a little non-diverse; most people are described as white, except for Yui Hyouden, a Japanese Kitsune and a minor character. I’m still holding out for more characters of color in future books.

The blending of technology and magic in the story is fascinating, as we meet April, January’s daughter, a dryad whose tree was destroyed several years ago by developers. She has been installed into a computer server, giving her abilities far different from the traditional wood nymph. Her personality takes a while to emerge, but once it does, watch out; this is a tech-fae with strong ideas about how things should work. The idea of using technology to aid Faerie is very unique, and it was handled well in the story, becoming a main driving force behind the mystery. The descriptions never became too technical, but enough was described that you felt the characters really knew what they were talking about.

A Local Habitation is a great sequel to Rosemary and Rue. The best part: it’s not necessary to read the first book before starting the second. It will help, but McGuire is adept at mentioning past events with just enough explanation that you get the gist, without them becoming long drawn out flashbacks or confusing the current storyline. Good characters, an interesting mystery, and an author who continues to improve her books make this a series worth reading. Keep an eye out for An Artificial Night, coming out in September 2010.

***************************************************************
Check out Seanan McGuire’s website or follow her on Twitter @SeananMcGuire

Shop Indie Bookstores

Read Full Post »

Shop Indie Bookstores
Shop Indie Bookstores

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (January 15, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0765348276

Old Man’s War is set in the not so distant future of the human race. We’ve made it to the stars and beyond, which is good for the expansion of our colonies and the survival of the species. However, it turns out the universe is a much meaner and scarier place than first thought, full of alien races that think human-burgers are a great addition to their food chain.

Enter the Colonial Defense Force, a military organization tasked with protecting our colonies and establishing new ones. They recruit from Earth, but not in the traditional way. They take only those 75 years of age or over, who’ve lived their lives and have nothing else to hold them to the planet, as well as packing years of experience to temper their attitudes. Through a mysterious process unknown on Earth, the CDF has the ability to make people young again: the only catch? You can never return to Earth or speak with anyone on the planet ever again.

John Perry is one such senior citizen. His beloved wife is gone, his son is grown and well established, but he’s not ready to lay down and die just yet. He makes the choice to join the CDF and serve his ten years, then become a colonist. Old Man’s War is the story of his first two years in the CDF.

The story is a fascinating one. The people Perry meets are funny and interesting, and it’s easy to feel for him and them as they are transported (in more ways than one) far from everything they’ve every known. Perry’s ethics are stretched and twisted to the limit, as he must decide whether the price of human survival is worth the personal cost to the soldiers of the CDF. It’s Starship Troopers for old folks, as well as a dash of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? when it comes to the question of what makes one human.

I think Scalzi does a good job of acknowledging that his character comes with 75 years of history and portraying that through Perry’s thoughts and actions. Perry’s not a cocky hotshot, his actions are thought out and well-planned (most of the time) and it’s harder to rock him than it would be a true rookie recruit. Scalzi also doesn’t overuse this history, managing to keep the geezer jokes to a minimum except when absolutely necessary.

The women in the book are a little flat, in my opinion, but I think that’s true of all of the side characters. The story really is about John Perry, until most of the way through when we meet Jane Sagan. I won’t reveal her secrets, but she is a complex and amazing character, and her situation is very thought provoking. I think the addition of her character saves the story from a feminist perspective. I hope to see more of her in the books that follow Old Man’s War.

Early in the story we are introduced to a rather nasty character who voices some pretty racist opinions, and the main characters take great relish in knocking him down a few pegs. There are no main characters of color, but that’s not necessarily a reflection on the story. One of the plot devices used actually negates the existence of skin color, and after that it’s impossible to tell or judge any of the side characters on origin. This may be a case of whitewashing, so to speak, but I didn’t get that impression. The state of the human race is more important in this story than actual inter-relations between humans.

There is a gay character that Perry is friends with who features prominently in a large part of the story, and they’re very at ease about their friendship, which I think is pretty cool. There’s also casual mention of a menage a trois involving the gay character and another couple, and that’s a very open minded and relaxed take on alternative relationships, which is another plus in Scalzi’s favor.

All in all, this a great story with an interesting premise from a progressive author I hope to read more of. I’d definitely recommend it to any speculative fiction fan.

*******************************************
You can check out John Scalzi’s blog Whatever or follow him on Twitter @scalzi.

Read Full Post »