Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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If you liked Murderbot

TheHatchling#1 (aka my son) re-re-…-re-read the Murderbot series so many times, since he just couldn’t find anything that kept his interest, that I was actually very happy when he read and liked Six Wakes and then alerted me to the Indranan War series after he had read the first chapter that was printed as a teaser at the end of Six Wakes. We decided to do a buddy-read, which ended with TheHatchling#1 reading all three books and then nagging me to get started already since he wanted to discuss.

Since we want to avoid any spoilers we’re only reviewing the first book in the series, Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers, published 02 August, 2016.

The blurb:

Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.

Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.

But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.

A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

The blurb is partly spot on, partly misleading. Yes, Hail is a sarcastic princess-turned-pirate/smuggler who’s been forcefully returned to her home planet, because someone is killing off the members of her family, the royal family. She’s the only direct heir to the Indranan throne left alive and is struggling to stay breathing with assassination attempts from all sides. Although it is more a story of “courtly conspiracy” rather than action packed space opera, the novel is intriguing, and thanks to assassinations, scandals and betrayals there is never a dull moment.

Hail left her home twenty years ago to hunt down her father’s killers. She embraced the life outside the confines of an empirical princess’ life so much that she became a gunrunner and furthermore captain of her own ship. When she’s dragged back into the palace, she not only has to confront her now ailing mother, whom she has had a troubled relationship with, but also cope with her grief for her sisters’ deaths and come to terms with her new role. Moreover, she learns about the role her long-time companion/lover played without being able to reconcile with him.

As mentioned above, the people behind the murders of her family are also plotting to kill her, which turns out not to be as easy as the plotters thought it would be. Hail swears to uncover the conspiracy and bring the culprits to justice.

What we really liked about this book and the following two books in the trilogy: The Indranan Empire is a matriarchal empire built on Hindu/Indian culture and mythology. It has been matriarchal for more than a thousand years which is obvious down to the swearing, Hail calls people out on their “cowshit” several times.

What this book is not: It’s not a Star Wars-style SF adventure/space opera. It’s more Urban Fantasy set in an SF environment; taking place in a solar system far from our current one, there are space ships and futuristic technology, and there are alien races. There are no epic space battles, we hardly see the inside of a spaceship, and Hail is definitely not a female Han Solo. Whoever came up with that comparison might not have read the book they were writing the blurb for.

The writing: It is a character driven story told from the first person POV, Hail’s. This might mean that you need some time to warm to Hail, especially since she has the tendency to be a bit melodramatic. Further the writing style of this debut novel is ‘a tad bit’ exaggerated, but we soon ignored that the world came crashing down around Hail and that the air was sucked from her lungs, since we were drawn in by the plot enfolding and the secondary characters being more fleshed out. And while we, along with Hail, learned who she can trust and who is nothing more than a two-faced sycophant, Hail also proved that she is a strong ruler who cares for her people.

4/5 Harpy Eagles from the both of us

Duck’s Reading Quarterly

Reading this year has been so slow for me. I focus hard on learning game development, so one of the books I read was a gigantic chunkster about the Unity Game Engine. It was boring as well as educational.

I finished the Powder Mage Trilogy and all its novellas at the start of the year, which I announced in my end of the year post – so I actually read what I had planned. Let’s look back at the series that I wanted to read:

  • Murderbot by Martha Wells: I bought the 6th Murderbot installation, immediately read it in one sitting. Who does not love Murderbot????
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson: I read Cytonic and 2 of the short stories. Evershore is waiting until the short story collection arrives at my doorstep. I cannot behave, I buy books. We might do a collective review of the series as a group.
  • The Hollows by Kim Harrison: Million Dollar Demon was my birthday present and I read it only a week or so after! What an achievement (insert irony here)
  • The Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire: No progress here, but I believe I am at least 2 books behind, so… I’ll let it sit.
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: I have The Untold Story on the shelf and plan to read it in the near future, when I need something a bit more fluffy.
  • Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne: I read Paper & Blood recently, and devoured it in a day. It’s funny, it’s wise, it has action, what more do you want? Read the review by TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle for book one here.

Additionally, I finished the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie as a buddyread with TheMarquessMagpie. It was a blast, the books are 5/5 duckies, review here.

Our Tigana buddyread went a lot worse, but that happens.

Here is the most! important bit of news: I actually managed to DNF a book!!!! Amazing, right? Me and Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston could not connect on any level, and I did not even have the motivation to skim the second half of the book, so I just put it away! Actually, I will sell it, which might be an indicator that I am still a bit ashamed and don’t want to have the culprit near me.

So what’s to come in the second quarter of 2022: Currently, we birdies are having a Mistborn buddyread. I am the only one who knows the story, and I am so excited what the others think! I might join an Instagram buddyread of The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons, if time allows for it. For the rest of my reading, I have made a list of 20 books on my TBR that spark my current attention and roll a D20 to find out my current read! Currently, it’s The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling.

Tigana, or fantasy from another age

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay was our newest attempt at a Buddyread. First published in 1990, we were a bit stunned that this book is 32 years old, older than me. It is a standalone fantasy novel, and the TheMarquessMagpie recently read a much more recent novel by the same author, A Brightness Long Ago, and really enjoyed it.

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered land struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the black sorcery of a cruel despotic king that even the name of their once-beautiful homeland cannot be spoken or remembered…

But years after the devastation, a handful of courageous men and women embark upon a dangerous crusade to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the dark world the brilliance of a long-lost name…Tigana.

Goodreads blurb, 09.03.2022

So off we went to the Lands of the Palm, modeled after Italy in the Renaissance, where we meet Devin, one of our main Protagonists. Devin is a young singer in a troupe and does not really have any defining character traits, but takes more the role of the observer of the story who gets swept up in the plot. This is where TheMostHonourableHarpyEagle left us, without intriguing characters, the book was too slow for her. And she is not wrong, there does not happen much in the book.

While the prose is certainly beautiful and I have passages that I really liked, the book feels a bit like an ancient Greek tragedy. They go this way, meet this person, then the other. Then there is a woman bent on revenge but instead she falls in love. Torn in two, she tries to find a mystical being for help and a prophecy.

There are some things which really show the age of the book, the casual racism for once, the depiction of women as incapable of controlling their feelings another. Each character feels like a certain stereotype, and a strong, non-male character is missing, at least in my opinion.

Then there is the casual incest which really adds NOTHING to the story. Absolutely nothing. The author has written a really good afterword, but the explanation that in face of war and oppression, people tend to act out in other ways is really not enough for me.

While this was a very slow, flawed read for me, it was not all bad, and I would like to quote a part of the authors afterword here:

Tigana is in good part a novel about memory: the necessity of it, in cultural termns, and the dangers that come when it is too intense.

guy gavriel kay

3/5 duckies

It’s that time of the month…

… when I am thinking about which skein of yarn I’ll have to turn into a pair of woollen socks, because it’s getting cold outside.

This summer hasn’t been very summery and it seems to have turned into autumn already. As I’ve mentioned last month already, this has definitely boosted my reading.

In August I read a lot of ARCs, see my quick reviews of a few of them here and here, and I re-read some comfort reads. That’s probably why I haven’t made any big reading plans for September so far. I have been thinking about making an autumn reading list though, I could add the few books left from my summer reading list. Planned for the immediate future is Pratchett’s Going Postal, since the #OokBOokClub on Litsy is discussing this next week. My other book club decided on reading Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, which is on the Booker longlist and supposed to be a very un-Booker book – so I’ve been told. It might very well be the first Booker book I’ll be reading.

What I’m longing to read is a book with a surprising plot twist. I can most often see a plot twist from miles away, despite lack of foreshadowing. That’s probably the current main reason why I’m re-reading books, or read romance novels; I know what I am in for and my brain can take a stroll for once. I am an over-thinker and I have a very hard time reading a book without thinking about its continuity, possible plot twists, etc. I am my own worst enemy, I spoil the plot/fun for myself. Most books I read this summer couldn’t surprise me. I’m not saying that they were bad, but once in a while I’d like to say “I did not see that coming!” Which book(s) surprised you with unexpected plot twists?

Better go do some stash diving for the perfect yarn. Can’t think of anything more relaxing than a comfort read on my headphones while I’m turning a ball of soft wool into a pair of reading socks right now. Even if I don’t encounter a plot twist in the book I’m listening too, I’m sure I’ll manage to twist the yarn I’m working with.

June BuddyRead Reveal

This June we’ll be reading Brian Catling’s Hollow, published 01 June 2021.

Neither of us had this author or the book on the radar and so it’s a total surprise to us. Hence, we can’t tell you anything about what we are hoping to find inside. But, please don’t let it be a fantasy Western with gun slinging orcs.

The blurb hints at an epic odyssey of a group of mercenaries, protecting a divine oracle on it’s journey through a land raging with war between the living and the dead; giants, sirens, surreal paintings, bone marrow and the confessing of sins… A small part of me is wondering whether The Otherland‘s May(?) newsletter topic – fungi/mushrooms – might have played into the selection of this book.

Black Water Sister

Our May Buddyread was Black Water Sister by Zen Cho, a contemporary fantasy novel set in Penang. Our main character Jessamyn probably has enough problems to struggle with when moving back to Malaysia. She has to find a job, and the distance is really taking a toll on the relationship with her girlfriend. Especially, since her parents know nothing about said girlfriend. On top of that, the voice in her head is not there due to stress, but because her dead grandmother has unfinished business.

Instead of taking time to sort out her life, Jessamyn is pulled into a conflict between a local gang boss and the deity her grandmother used to be a medium for – the titular Black Water Sister. The Sister is definitely not a quiet and benevolent one and quite a good match for the Malaysian gang members.

The first part of the book starts out quite slow, but once the first deity shows up things really get moving. Seeing a wider range of deities one may not be familiar with was really interesting. Jess’ grandmother is a really fun character, as she’s a snarky, ruthless old lady. You wouldn’t want her in your head, or to be on her bad side, yet her appearances were always very entertaining.

The resolution was slightly predictable, but still fitted the story’s development and made sense that way. The Malaysian setting was really refreshing and plays a very important part in the story. Overall, this was an entertaining and fast read.

4/5 Magpies

16 Ways to Defend a Walled City

After reading K.J. Parker’s novella Prosper’s Demon in January, we decided that 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City should follow soon.

The main character Orhan, a colonel of engineers, is widely out of his depth when the city faces an approaching siege. But he has to take command, since nobody else is willing to do it. What follows is a series of events he would probably never have bargained for. He proves to be cunning and resourceful, and is a great character to spend time with.

The plot of the book is built up in a very entertaining and clever way, and even the enemy on the other side of the wall proves to be a surprise for Orhan. Since the story is told as Orhan’s account of the events, the narration is pleasantly unreliable.

Parker’s writing style once again managed to delight us. Cleverly crafted shenanigans (yeah engineering!) are mixed with scenes that hilariously highlight the absurd paths bureaucracy can take. In one scene Orhan has to hunt down this book’s equivalent to permit A 38. Compared to Prosper’s Demon, the main characters feel quite similar. Which is a very good thing, if you share our fondness for smart, flawed characters and a dry sense of humour. There is also a sequel (How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It) following a different main character. We think it is a good idea to take some time between those books so that Parker’s style does not feel too repetitive.

April Buddyread Reveal

Our next buddyread book has arrived, and it is Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley. Just look at that gorgeous cover!

The blurb and the line “This is a place where we can be alone, together” on the cover give you a kind of peaceful, found family vibe. After the year we’ve had, this seems like something we all need – although a past war between Earth and Qita also seems to play a major role in the story and resulting conflicts may disrupt the peace.

The space inn setting alone seems like a nice palate cleanser after our last buddyread, and I’m very much looking forward to start reading it.

March Buddyread

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, originally published September 2019, is an absolute brick of a book. With 630 pages, you get a lot to read and think about.

Warning: This is more a rant than a review, and as such it contains what some people might consider spoilers.

To be honest, neither of the three of us liked the book. Reading the first part of the book we all agreed that it gave us a sense of Déjà-Vu. We were reminded of The Da Vinci Code -we even went so far as to say Da Vinci Code with Fairies-, American Gods, The Starless Sea and a bit of Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery series.

The second part then picked up some speed when a detective, Jacob, was on the main character Taryn’s heels. He was looking into the murder of Taryn’s sister’s murderer. Taryn also introduces her book. A book about books, but the only really important part in Taryn’s book is a scroll box named the Firestarter. When Taryn and the detective get plunged into fairy land, we didn’t bat an eyelash, we were still fully on board. But then,… then the book just took a turn for the worse.

What followed were long descriptions that more often that not seemed to make no sense at all and just bogged down the main story. Also: Can someone please explain why we have this mishmash of different believe systems? What’s the Christian concept of Hell to do with Celtic mythology? And what the BH do Hugin and Munin and Odin and Mimir have to do with this? And since when is Mimir a norn? Without prior knowledge about these systems, we would have been even more confused.

Naturally, we started discussing this. We could not come up with a reasonable explanation other than, it’s weird, we might have to live with it.

Ploughing on, and that is what it felt from then on, we went back and forth within the chapters we were reading and re-read passages, just to still be confused by events and discussions that seemed to have happened off the page.

We considered bailing. Then TheLadyDuckOfDoom went ahead and skimread to the end. Pre-warning that we’d encounter a passage where over more than ten pages nothing much happens but Taryn and Jacob trying to lift something. No wonder the book is so long!

In the end, we find out what is inside the Firestarter scroll box and why it is so bloody important – ridiculously anticlimactic. We finally find out what The Absolute Book, the book is named after, actually is. And there is an interesting and rather weird attempt at solving climate change with magic.

Final conclusion. The Absolute Book was absolutely not our cup of tea, but lots of tea was drunk during the reading process, and gin. From a certain point on tea just didn’t do it anymore.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom: This book tries to be everything at once. It gets so lost during that. It should have focused on fewer things.

U-Haul in space, and other catastrophes

Gallowglass by S. J. Morden was our January BuddyRead book.

Jack has it all. As the son of billionaires he has no worries other than his parents trying to force him to get treatments to become immortal. Who wouldn’t want to live an endless life full of riches?

Well, Jack doesn’t. So he comes up with a plan to flee from his parents’ home, from his country, from Earth. He has organised it all in secret. He even has a job ready. But when his parents cross his plans, he’s forced to join the crew of a ship that wants to haul a very large asteroid from the edge of the solar system to lunar orbit. He has the training, but no work experience, and this first job could easily become his last when obstacle upon obstacle unfolds.

The story has an underlying climate change agenda, but it’s so subtle, you need to really look for it. It basically gets swamped by all the trajectory calculations Jack has to perform. I liked the quotes about climate change at the beginning of each chapter though. Some of them were dating back as far as the 17th century, which indicate that the climate change we are facing now was predicted back then already.

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